Nelson Mandela death: Commentators reflect on a global legacy

Nelson Mandela addresses a crowd a few weeks after his release from prison in 1990.
Image caption By governing "wisely and democratically", Mandela took a place in the pantheon of revolutionaries-turned-leaders, rather than dictators, writes Max Boot

Within hours of Nelson Mandela's passing, commentary from around the world began pouring in - reflecting the greatness of the man and the impact his life had on the entire globe.

In South Africa, the tributes were particularly poignant. The Mail & Guardian's Mark Gevisser writes that the man his fellow South Africans endearingly called "Madiba" was a father to his nation in a most personal sense:

Mandela epitomised those instincts we most associate with childhood: trust, goodness, optimism; an ability to vanquish the night's demons with the knowledge that the sun will rise in the morning. But he also made us feel good, and warm, and safe, because he found a way to play an ideal father, beyond the confines of his biological family or even his national one. He was the father we would all have wanted if we could have designed one. He was wise with age, benignly powerful, comfortingly irascible, stern when we needed containing, breathtakingly courageous, affirming when we needed praise - and, of course, possessed of the two childlike qualities that make for the best of fathers: an exhilarating playfulness and a bottomless capacity to forgive.

According to Patrick Bulger of the South African Business Daily, it was Mr Mandela's capacity to forgive, and what it meant to the birth of a new South Africa, that is a key to his legacy:

Mandela's life was not just about ending apartheid, for which he can claim much of the credit, it was also about bringing into being the possibility of a historic reconciliation between black and white, given that the latter would always remain visitors to the continent until this meeting of minds could start the healing needed after decades, centuries, of domination.

'Would the Dream Survive?'

In the US, tributes to Mr Mandela have been a combination of nostalgia, a clear-eyed look at his life, and a reflection on what is in store for South Africa.

Douglas Foster of The Nation contends that one of Mr Mandela's greatest triumphs was preparing South Africa to move on after his death.

"It was part of his legacy that so many of his countrymen had grown tired, even angry, at being asked whether the dream of establishing a new kind of society would outlive him," he writes. "It was perhaps his most enduring gift that this question, asked ritualistically by outsiders, should sound so silly, so wide of the mark, on the day he died. In the end, there was a period but no question mark. Would the dream survive? The answer: it already had."

Magogodi Makhene writes in Salon about her memories of meeting Mr Mandela as a child:

There is a beautiful praise song from the days before the country was born, a song that may have been sung on a day like the one on which I met Mandela, "Nelson Mandela! Nelson Mandela! Hauna o tswanang le yena" — There is none. There is none like you. When I'm alone, in my private thoughts, and this song crosses my mind, I remember the smells and sounds of being 7, in my father's arms, peering over a small concrete gate and holding Nelson Mandela's warmth in my tiny hands, my expectant heart waiting for the day we would tell this story, about the time the world started over and our country was born.

Dave Gilson of Mother Jones remembers Mr Mandela's revolutionary past and his fiery speech delivered to the court that sentenced him to prison.

"The speech, delivered in Mandela's characteristically deliberate style, marked the boundaries of his idealism and pragmatism, his militancy and moderation, his courage and caution," he writes. "The manifesto remains one of the clearest political portraits of Mandela, whose revolutionary past seemed to fade as he became a global icon, a genial grandpa who sat for photo-ops with an endless parade of celebrity well-wishers."

Image caption Nelson Mandela 'cast a giant shadow' from prison

As a revolutionary, writes Max Boot for Commentary, Mr Mandela was an admirable insurgent, who governed "wisely and democratically" once he came to power.

"This is not, needless to say, the norm. Much more common are insurgents like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Kim Il Sung, and (fill in the blank) who, while posturing as freedom fighters battling an evil dictatorship, swiftly become dictators in turn as soon as they seize power," he writes. "The exceptions to that rule are some of the greatest figures of modern history - the likes of George Washington, Michael Collins, David Ben-Gurion, and, most recently, Nelson Mandela."

To remember Mr Mandela as a saint does him a disservice, argues Adam Roberts in Slate. "He may be compared to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, as a great moral figure of our times," he writes. "But the myth should not overpower the reality of a humane, richly complicated, and passionate individual."

"Now that Mandela has died, something will shift in South Africa for good," writes Natasha Joseph for the Atlantic. "It will be time to take stock of where we are as a young democracy and realize that ending apartheid was just one battle in a much bigger war. I hope we're ready to fight."

'Unyielding Grace'

Elsewhere in the world, the response was equally contemplative.

"When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, South Africa was a catastrophe waiting to happen," writes Roy Isacowitz for the Israeli paper Haaretz. "Had Nelson been anything but Mandela - anything but that exquisitely modulated blend of common sense, compassion and authority - the whole place could well have gone up in flames."

Stephanie Nolen of the Canadian Globe and Mail writes that Mr Mandela's "life showed him to be a skilled tactician, a ruthless adversary, an able politician, an incisive and catholic thinker about liberation and oppression."

It was Mr Mandela's persistence, writes Patrick Carlyon of the Sydney Telegraph, that set him apart.

"His aims would match those of many other political heroes," he writes. "But few others were forced to persist for 50 years, for a cause that for most of that time appeared doomed. And few could persevere against such injustice with such unyielding grace."

Even journalists covering Nelson Mandela were touched by the greatness of the man, according to Bryan Pearson, who worked as an AFP Johannesburg correspondent in the 1990s.

"Covering the 'Mandela story' was a life-enhancing experience," he writes. "He humbled us all into trying to be better human beings and, more especially, to embrace reconciliation at a time when all South Africans, black and white, were still bearing the scars of apartheid."

Vic Adlhadeff, former chief subeditor of The Cape Times, writes that Mr Mandela was "was the unspoken presence" in a newsroom where coverage of the anti-apartheid movement was strictly censored.

"Mandela was there. Silenced. Casting a giant shadow. Yet always there. And as one of the nation's anti-apartheid newspapers, we were acutely aware that in our midst was a colossus whose time had to come. And when it did, it would change South Africa forever."