The man who threw hatred down

Last updated 05:00 09/12/2013

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OPINION: Editorial: In South Africa the flags are flying half-mast. If anything the symbolism will be more profound when they are raised again.

Surely that will be the moment that more appropriately honours Nelson Mandela.

His story is one of uplift and was extraordinary not only for the manner in which this was achieved, but maintained.

As an ardent opponent of apartheid, he had to prove neither he nor anyone else was less than human. Then, having become such an inspirational figure, he needed from time to time to clarify that he wasn't superhuman either.

He was never grand, lordly, nor even gladhanded.

He lived with a measure of grace that meant that he was as unimposing in his triumphal years as he was unbowed in his prison years.

The story of the political prisoner and figurehead of the human rights struggle, freed to become his country's leader, was enough to make him a legend.

It was also enough to ensure that any missteps and failings would have been seized upon and amplified.

Instead, through the passage of years, it became increasingly clear Mandela was untwisted and as sincere as he appeared.

His messages of reconciliation and healing were essentially simple, but no compelling for that.

When the occasion required it, Nelson Mandela could do triumphalism. He cannot have failed to have known - more than that, to have felt - not only the love he evoked in his homeland, and the admiration with which he was held worldwide.

He was sufficiently perceptive to have to have had a vivid, probably undistorted, sense of how much he mattered to so many people.

So quite rightly, he put his prestige to work, not only in matters as strategically important as his political career and Aids campaigning, but also in his writing and speeches, which were models of encouragement.

Hatred, he reminded all who would listen, was something people had to learn. "And if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart." Amen to that.

Mandela's presidency was partly characterised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which revisited human rights violations with a restorative justice, rather than judicially punitive, agenda.

It was not unassailably effective, by any means.

Some participants felt less heeded than others and some of the public saw it as reopening wounds rather than usefully addressing them.

But it was a genuine effort, audacious in its ambitions. Its role in South Africa's transition to democracy was a noble one and by any sane measure it did a great deal more good than harm.

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When Mandela visited New Zealand in 1995 the Queenstown walkabout was something more commonly associated with royalty though it was probably more an act of politeness on his part, albeit endearingly communicated.

It was surely a source of satisfaction for those who had protested the 1981 Springbok tour when he told them of his fellow prisoners' reactions, rattling their doors throughout the jail, at the news that the Waikato game had been stopped. It was, he said, "like the sun came out".

- The Southland Times

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