Nelson Mandela: The World Mourns His Loss, Remembers His Life

10 December, 2013

Welcome to As It Is from VOA Learning English. I'm Mario Ritter in Washington.

Today, we have a special report on the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela. Thousands of mourners attended the service on Tuesday in Johannesburg. The attendees included more than 70 heads of state, including the president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Later, we tell about Mandela's part in ending white minority rule in South Africa.

Mandela's Emotional Memorial

South Africans gathered Tuesday to remember and mourn former South African leader Nelson Mandela. He was recognized for his long fight against racial separation, or apartheid, in South Africa. George Grow has the report by VOA's Anita Powell who was there.

Rainy weather did not stop more than 60,000 South Africans, foreign officials and others from meeting at the Johannesburg soccer stadium to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela: The World Mourns His Loss, Remembers His Life
South African Deputy President F.W. de Klerk, and South African President Nelson Mandela pose with their Nobel Peace Prize Gold Medal and Diploma, in Oslo, on December 10, 1993. (AP)
Twenty years ago, Dave Steward was a top assistant to Mr. De Klerk, who was South Africa's president. Mr. De Klerk was involved in the later part of the negotiations. He shared the Nobel Prize with Mr. Mandela.

"The role played by Nelson Mandela at this juncture was extremely important. Sitting in prison at Pollsmoore in Capetown, he reached the conclusion, by himself and often against the advice and wishes of his colleagues, that there was not going to be an armed or military outcome to the struggle in South Africa, that there would have to be a negotiated solution."

Jay Naidoo was active in the struggle against apartheid. He says only Nelson Mandela had the ability to take such an unpopular step within the ANC. Mr. Naidoo was then head of South Africa's largest group of trade unions.

"The apartheid regime could not defeat us and we could not defeat them. We were at a stalemate. The alternative was a scorched earth. So in that context, leaders rose on both sides of the conflict to say, ‘How do we lay the basis for a peaceful settlement?' And there was no better person to lead our side than Nelson Mandela, someone who had spent 27 years in jail for our freedom."

Jay Naidoo also praises the labor movement and the work of trade union negotiators.
"We had a whole decade of negotiations on very tough and adversarial issues before the political negotiation process started. So I think generally speaking, the environment and the conditions for negotiations towards a peaceful settlement of the racial question and apartheid issues in South Africa, was led in very different places."

Dave Steward says things changed quickly after the negotiations started. He says Mandela went on the offensive and "came out swinging" – a plan that might have failed with someone else.

"In fact, some of his attacks on De Klerk were quite brutal. These issues could have led to serious complications in the negotiating process if different personalities were involved."

Both men also noted another issue that often is raised in discussions about Nelson Mandela: his powerful personality and his humility. It was that rare combination, they said, that enabled Mandela to take a brave step that changed the world around him.

I'm Caty Weaver.

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