A LITTLE over a quarter of a century ago, the world entered a
season of seismic change. We learned new Russian words, such as
perestroika (listen) and glasnost (openness). The
Cold War was suspended, and the Berlin Wall tumbled down.
"Democracy" was the word on everyone's lips, from Belgrade to
Grozny; from Windhoek to Cape Town.
Then, on 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from
South Africa's prodigal son had returned. For 27 years he had
been hidden from sight; now he was found. Unlike the son in the
parable of Jesus, who squandered his inheritance, this son had
grown his fortune.
The Madiba who emerged into the sunshine on that day was a fully
formed human being. Displaying neither bitterness at his captors,
nor smugness in the afterglow of his eventual political victory, he
embodied magnanimity and altruism.
He very clearly understood people's interdependence in the cycle
of life: that when the sum of our collective parts move together,
humanity can thrive. This is what we call in our part of the world
Ubuntu: I am because you are. A person is a person through
Whereas the global season of political change triggered
horrendous conflicts in some parts of the world, the then President
of South Africa, F. W. De Klerk, opened the door in his
conflict-ridden and divided country, and a miraculously peaceful
IT IS difficult to measure the pulse of history while living
through it; hindsight affords us the opportunity to scope and
Whereas some of Madiba's incredible public acts of
reconciliation - such as travelling across the country to a
whites-only enclave to take tea with the widow of the man dubbed
the architect of apartheid - may have appeared gauche in the hands
of others, he made it feel like they were old friends.
You might not imagine that the widows of apartheid and
anti-apartheid leaders would have much in common. But when Madiba
invited them for dinner at his official residence, they broke bread
together. His graciousness was contagious; some called it "Madiba
By sheer force of personality, he bashed down barriers wherever
he could find them. One thinks of his remarkable embrace of the
Springbok rugby team that won the World Cup in 1995. Rugby was
regarded as a bastion of white supremacy; the Springbok logo was
widely reviled as an apartheid symbol - until the day that Madiba
wore the captain's Number Six at Ellis Park. Wow!
One of the highest peaks over which nations emerging from
periods of repression must climb is dealing with the wounds of the
past. How to deal with the unhealed scars, the disappearances, the
killings, the torture and division. . .
Some argued that the most appropriate route across that peak for
South Africa, after 350 years of colonialism and white minority
rule, was to convene a series of show trials, similar to the
Nuremberg Trials, where some of the most villainous perpetrators
could be brought to account for their actions.
But Captain Madiba naturally steered the good ship South
Africa off the course of vengeance. A Truth and Reconciliation
Commission was established, which I had the honour to lead. Its
purpose was to begin the long and winding process of healing our
thoroughly battered and bruised collective soul.
Of course, South Africa is not as perfect today as Madiba hoped
it would be. As he receded from public life, so has our mantle
slipped as world flavour of the year. It was inevitable, I suppose;
for leaders of the calibre of Mandela are very rare. How we miss
I believe that Nelson Mandela was a gift from God, not only for
South Africans, but for all people across the world. He gave us a
glimpse of a world without greed, without selfishness - with
forgiveness and love and tolerance and mutual respect. He showed us
what we can be. What we ought to be.
Dr Tutu is Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and the author
of In God's Hands (the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent