Posted on December 4, 2013

Honoring Nelson Mandela

George H. W. Bush, Huffington Post, December 3, 2013

I was honored to be the first American President to welcome Mr. Mandela to the White House. It remains a genuine highlight from those four years I was privileged to hold that high office. Together with Poland’s Lech Walesa and Czechoslovakia’s Vaclav Havel, I viewed Nelson Mandela as one of the great moral leaders during that hopeful and transformative era of global change.

Early in 1990, after President de Klerk announced his intention to release Mr. Mandela–who was then the African National Congress leader–I publicly welcomed the news as it was another significant step on the road to the nonracial, democratic South Africa we all desired.

Following his 27 years of wrongful imprisonment, it would have been understandable if Mr. Mandela had harbored and expressed more animosity–more bitterness–towards his political adversaries. That he didn’t is one of the more remarkable examples of grace and dignity I have ever witnessed. {snip}


In our meetings at the White House, on June 25, 1990, we talked about the future of South Africa–and how the United States could contribute towards the positive change we were already seeing. We talked about how we shared the goal of true democracy and dismantling, once and for all, the vestiges of apartheid–a system that based the rights and freedoms of citizenship on the color of one’s skin.


It took genuine leadership for the political leaders in South Africa to compromise and show restraint. No one better embodied this spirit than Nelson Mandela.

With the United States offering help and encouragement, five critical developments took place in South Africa in a relatively short period of time: the repeal of apartheid laws on racial segregation, the lifting of a national state of emergency, the legalization of political parties, the initiation of good-faith negotiations toward a non-racial government, and finally, the release of all political prisoners.

Looking back, it is plain to see that it would have been impossible to achieve not only these policy objectives–but also the larger ambition of a truly free and democratic South Africa–without the moral leadership, courage and vision of Nelson Mandela.