The perfect trip: Cambodia

Published December 26, 2013

Phnom Penh.  The Royal Palace (Mark Read)
Click on photo to see additional photos.
Marvel at the palaces, markets and bars of the capital, Phnom Penh, before heading north to Siem Reap for excursions to a floating village on Tonlé Sap Lake and the extravagant, inspirational temples of Angkor. From there, it is south to the untouched jungles of the Cardamom Mountains, finishing with a homestay on a rural family farm.
Phnom Penh: Best for culturePhnom Penh is eerily quiet. A sole remork – the usually ubiquitous motorised rickshaw – rolls languorously past the Royal Palace to a deserted Tonlé Sap riverfront. Here, among the shuttered-up shops facing the palm-lined promenade, food stalls sell noodle soup and beef skewers to infrequent customers.
The peace doesn’t last. As the Khmer festival that emptied the city ends, Phnom Penhois who’d been drawn to rural family gatherings in their tens of thousands flood back to the capital and the beguiling chaos resumes. After a troubled history, which reached its nadir with the Khmer Rouge’s enforced eviction of the city in the ’70s, the ‘Pearl of Asia’ is thriving, with a flourishing café culture and a glut of world-class fusion restaurants.
Prosperity has added an extra sheen to its cultural institutions too, many of which were built during Cambodia’s French Protectorate era, beginning in 1863. Among these is the Art Deco Psar Thmei, a pastel-yellow covered market with four wings radiating from an enormous central dome.
A few hours after dawn and the Central Market, as it is also known, is already a blur of browsing and bartering. Business is brisk at textile stalls selling traditional checked krama scarves, while elsewhere chattering shoppers weave past fruit outlets piled with lychees and crimson dragon fruit, and stalls overflowing with lotus flowers and bunches of fragrant Rumdul, Cambodia’s national flower.
Just a few blocks from the market, the National Museum is close enough to the riverfront to receive some of its welcome breeze. A group of schoolchildren in matching white polo shirts and flip-flops plays in the shade of the terracotta building’s neatly tended garden while, inside, visitors reflect upon 1,000 years of Khmer sculpture.
The adjacent Royal Palace, with its glistening spires and dragon-tail details, still dominates the city’s low-rise skyline. In a corner of one of its courtyards, a team of artists is working to restore a 1901 mural of the Reamker – Cambodia’s version of the epic Hindu poem the Ramayana.
 ‘When I did classical painting at university, we studied the Ramayana,’ says lead artist Roeung Sreyna, gesturing to the mural behind her, where spirits and horse-drawn chariots float over a celestial palace in the sky.
 The project is slow and technical. Matching the colours takes time, as does cleaning stains and fixing damage from humidity. ‘We take one section at a time,’ she says, pointing at a three-foot-wide band. ‘Two months for each section, and we have to work slowly. If it were a normal painting, we could do it in a year, but this is our history, so we have to take care.’
Tonlé Sap: Best for lake lifeIn the village of Me Chrey, the streets are made of water and the wooden houses float. The village’s 500 families are among the thousands who have settled on the surface of the freshwater Tonlé Sap, Cambodia’s ‘Great Lake’, where, not surprisingly, life revolves around the water. As dawn breaks, Me Chrey is already abuzz. Toddlers paddle small aluminium tubs down the main street, fruit and vegetable sellers in bright floral clothing and conical hats navigate boats between houses, and householders check for breaches in ‘fish banks’ – submerged reed baskets where fish are kept until market day. Shouted greetings and lively chatter are punctuated by the occasional snort of a pig from a floating pen. Further out on the water, a family retrieves traps and nets laid out in wide, intricate arrangements.
It’s an itinerant existence. The floating houses, which are tied to one another, are moved by the villagers four times a year to follow migrating fish stocks. The lake’s wildly fluctuating dimensions also a play a part – in the rainy season, Tonlé Sap swells to more than 6,000 square miles, raising the floating houses by around eight metres. Dry season sees the potential spots to anchor reduced significantly.
Sok Ang has lived in the village for more than 30 years. Four years ago she opened up a shop, connected to the family’s one-room home, which she runs while her husband and children do the fishing. Today, however, the kids sit behind with some neighbours, watching a soap opera on a TV connected to a car battery – the main source of power in the village. The shop sells all the necessities, from shampoo to cooking oil as well as lotus-seed snacks. ‘I sell whisky, too, but beer is more popular around here – especially Klang beer, which means strong,’ says Sok, laughing. The shop doesn’t have a name – at least not officially. ‘Everyone calls it Yeay [Grandma] Ang’s shop. I don’t have grandkids, but the village calls me that.’
Me Chrey is one of the less visited of Tonlé Sap’s villages and seeing it by kayak is the most atmospheric way to experience it. There is none of the noise or fuss of a regular tour boat, allowing the visitor to glide past a clump of water hyacinth and observe a gaggle of black-and-white mynah birds cavorting undisturbed. The sedate, unmotorised pace is also more in tune with village life. Following guide Chin on a meandering tour of the back streets, a wooden boat squeezes past in a narrow channel. It’s powered by a small girl, with equally diminutive oars. From the back, her baby sister waves excitedly. Children look up from swinging hammocks to note the kayaks’ silent passing.
 Paddling a kayak is easy, but not effortless; the perfect refreshment comes in the form of a strong, sweet iced coffee served by a mother and daughter in a covered boat that is part coffee shop, part convenience store. Competition for Grandma Ang – but here, in this remote, placid, water world, it’s no surprise to learn that cooperation holds sway. ‘The whole village are friends,’ says Grandma Ang. ‘I know everyone. If a family has a celebration, we all go to help out. Same if someone is sick – if one family has a fast boat, they’ll bring them to the mainland. We all have each other.’
Angkor: Best for templesIt’s late afternoon in an incense-filled hall in Angkor Wat. A tough-looking teenager in sunglasses and ripped jeans approaches an altar. On woven plastic mats, women pray to a Buddha statue, barely visible through the thick jasmine smoke. A fortune teller earnestly reads Jataka tales – stories of the Buddha’s former lives – and from the surrounding cloisters, lined with smaller, standing and seated Buddhas draped in saffron silks and fresh garlands, the sound of distant chanting echoes. The teenager takes off his trainers, carefully placing them next to the women’s flip-flops, and silently puts his hands together to join the group in prayer.
Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious structure, an architectural representation of the Hindu universe and the undoubted star of a massive temple city built, over the course of 600 years, by dozens of rulers who considered themselves part god, part king. Known today, rather prosaically, as Angkor Archaeological Park, the 150-square-mile site was the political and cultural centre of the Khmer empire and at its peak supported a population of one million.
The temples are still active centres of faith and everyday life today. Among the tourists who cross Angkor Wat’s sandstone causeways to explore its warren of chambers, courtyards and covered galleries are ranks of the devout. The Gallery of 1,000 Buddhas is now bereft of the vast majority of its eponymous statues – a legacy of the brutally destructive Khmer Rouge era of the early ’70s. Yet its spiritual significance remains undimmed.
As evening approaches, sunlight inches across the gallery’s courtyard to probe the dim cool of the covered walkways. Here, bas-reliefs of apsara dancers and pillars enlivened with Sanskrit inscriptions celebrating good deeds take on a rosy hue. The source of the chanting is revealed to be the Hall of Echoes, on the northern side of the gallery. As newly crowned Khmer kings once did, a group of young boys is harnessing the unusual acoustics here by pounding their chests, a process thought to offer mental and physical purification.
The walled and moated city of Angkor Thom sits about a mile due north of Angkor Wat. The most common approach to this sprawling complex, built by King Jayavarman VII as a statement of power in the late 12th century, is the stone-figurelined causeway to the crumbling South Gate. Despite its graceful, moss-swathed decay, the gate is undeniably imposing, its four giant bodhisattva faces staring beatifically out. Disturbed by a passing motorcycle rickshaw, a macaque pokes it head from beneath the arch to observe the scene, before retreating nonchalantly into the shade.
At the exact centre of the city stands the enigmatic Bayon – the state temple of Jayavarman. Built nearly a century after Angkor Wat, its 54 stone towers are carved with more than 200 huge faces; their resemblance to the famously hubristic king is not thought to be coincidental. A Buddhist altar is tucked away in a dark tower of Bayon; outside, rocks thought to create curses if removed are piled in small, thoughtful arrangements.
At Ta Prohm, to the northeast of Angkor Wat, strangler figs spill like liquid over 39 temples in various stages of ruination, creating a tangle of tipsy roofs and dark hallways. Inside one temple, an altar of Shiva, replete with gold-foil decorations and offerings of mangoes and Sprite, is tended by a ‘wat granny’ – the term for older women, often widows, who have taken monastic vows and help maintain religious buildings between meditation and prayer. She whispers blessings into a string bracelet before attaching it to the wrist of a devotee.
Monastic communities continue to live throughout Angkor, with Buddhist monks often passing through the historic sites on their way to and from their pagodas (a blend of temple and monastery). Tao Lav is 18 years old and joined Ta Prohm Meanjay, a pagoda outside Ta Prohm, earlier in the year. ‘When I became a monk, it wasn’t difficult – just a little bit boring,’ he says, laughing. ‘The first few days, I missed my family and friends, but the longer I stay, the more I give up, and now I’m happy.’
He lives in a simple thatched hut and is one of only five monks at the humble pagoda, and also the youngest. ‘This is a good pagoda. There aren’t many monks or noise, so it’s easy to meditate. And this is a heritage area, so the government doesn’t allow it to get built up. It’s very peaceful. Now that I’ve learned how to meditate, I like doing it. I feel so fresh afterwards. I’m trying to meditate more and more – no more thinking about the outside world.’
Cardamom Mountains: Best for jungleThe early-monsoon rains are falling hard in the Cardamom Mountains, perforating the glassy surface of the Tatai River. Lightning cuts through the slate-blue sky, scaring off the fireflies that usually dance over the water at dusk. The forested foothills darken, as the leaves of thousands of palm trees twist and turn restlessly in the downpour.
When the rain finally eases, steam starts to rise off the river’s surface, and frogs emerge from their hiding spots to plop around, experimenting with the new water levels. Mist slides lazily along the surrounding hills, meandering through coconut palms, wild-plum trees and pendulous jackfruits. The Tatai Waterfall is for the first time this year rushing over boulders, the moss that clings to them now a little greener. Local boys backflip from the rocks, yelling as they drop into the swollen pools.
This richly verdant pocket of southwest Cambodia is an area of protected forests and conservation corridors. What really preserves it, though, is its impenetrability – a dense web of jungle canopies enveloping a smattering of small villages and, latterly, eco-resorts. No surprise that the Cardamom Mountains was one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, with militants hiding out here for nearly two decades after the regime’s barbarous heyday in the late ’70s.
Hand-cleared paths linking isolated villages now serve as trekking routes for those looking to explore a less familiar side of the country. One such link, between the villages of Takat and Tuleki, clearly serves as a major thoroughfare. ‘The trails became well worn,’ says guide Ravy, Vy for short, ‘because those two villages are good friends.’
Red, white and black crabs emerge to bathe in puddles, while a troop of long-tailed macaques flits through the trees with a cacophany of screeching. On damp logs, mushrooms flourish. One type of these is used in spring rolls, another in mice poison. ‘Luckily, they look very different,’ says Vy.
Leaves that will later be used to wrap sticky rice are glistening, and an ‘ant house’ – a tiny, box-shaped nest made of leaves – has been dislodged by droplets and lies on the ground. Villagers will employ this in traditional medicine. Little goes to waste in such a remote and bountiful environment.
Midway along the path, a woman and her two sons emerge from the jungle carrying weathered shopping baskets full of wild mushrooms. Other days they might contain frogs. ‘When it rains, we go out in the early morning with a torch to get them,’ says Vy. He does the same with durian in season. ‘They fall in the night, so I come out at 5am before anyone else can take them.’
Back at the Tatai River, the sky is putting on a show of pinks and violets, while monsoon clouds churn in the distance. Birds start to shift and sing, and the forest rustles with the sounds of animals heading out on their evening rounds – and villagers returning home with firewood.
Takeo province: Best for rural lifeWhen Siphen Meas was growing up in the ’80s, her family lived off the land. Like most Cambodians, they’d lost their property and savings during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge that ended in 1979. Unlike many, they’d escaped with their lives. ‘We didn’t go shopping. We found our own fruit and grew our own vegetables,’ she says. ‘After school I’d pick greens to eat, fish in the lake or go to the bush to get firewood.’
Today, Siphen and her family shop all the time – nearby Angk Tasoam market is a favourite – but they still work the land in their village of Prey Theat, around two hours south of Phnom Penh. And it provides generously, producing rice, taro, coconut and mango. She now runs a homestay with her husband Mach, a fellow English teacher. Their house is surrounded by paddy fields, in which ducks frolic under the irate gaze of yoked oxen, as children wobble past on oversized bicycles. A neighbour harvests snails and small fish from a paddy field using a woven-basket scoop, stopping to pass the time of day with a family on a scooter – two children sandwiched uncomplainingly between their parents on the slender seat.
Rice season is July to December, and everyone pitches in – even homestay guests. ‘They work hard,’ says Siphen with a smile, ‘and the villagers laugh and say, “Why do they want to work like that?”.’
The homestay is a focal point of the village, many members of which are related to Siphen and Mach – Siphen hazards a guess that they have 100 family members in Prey Theat. Guests become part of the family too, staying in bungalows in the fruit-tree-laden grounds or in wood-panelled rooms in the main house. The peaceful, hammock-strewn courtyard is the centre of family life – a place for cousins to chat, braid one another’s hair and catch up on village gossip.
Siphen’s kitchen is also outdoors, lending the preparation of meals a communal feel. With the early evening sunlight dancing off the lily pond at the back of the homestay, Siphen lays out pork ribs, fish amok (fish curry steamed in banana leaves) and beef lok lak (beef stir-fried with red onions), before calling over Mach from his task of trimming the grass around the fruit trees.
Assisting her with the cooking are young pupils from the small school next door, who sing Cambodian pop songs as they chop vegetables. Their English is excellent and they chat excitedly with the native speakers at the homestay, some of whom will head to their classroom in the morning to join a class and offer some impromptu language tutoring.
The meal ends with a mango dessert – the family property is home to seven different kinds of the fruit, which Siphen’s niece picks using an ingenious tool made from a plastic bottle and long stick.
The homestay really is a family effort. ‘Even the distant cousins are close,’ explains Siphen. ‘Everyone looks after one another. Many people were lost from our family during the Khmer Rouge’s rule. So we all feel cold in our hearts and want to be closer to each other.’

Partner Spotlight: Cambodian Living Arts

Published December 11, 2013

In order to fully understand and appreciate the empowerment Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) provides for Cambodian artists, we must learn about Cambodia’s history. Between the years of 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge, a revolutionary anti-Western group that gained power, conducted genocide of Cambodians. It is estimated that during those years, 2 million Cambodians died from execution, torture, starvation, and overwork at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Among those who perished, about 90% were artists, musicians, and other creative individuals who were perceived to be embracing Western ideas of culture. The few remaining artists hid their identity in order to blend in and ultimately save their lives. In the decades following the Cambodian genocide, the people were crippled with economic hardships and could not make a living on their artistic talents. Oral traditions of passing down artistic and musical knowledge ceased and there was fear certain talents would be lost forever. 
Then, in 1998, Arn Chorn-Pond, the founder of CLA, and a small group of dedicated people decided to track down and revitalize the sliver of magnificent Cambodian talent still remaining. Initially, the program included four Master Artists who had the ability to teach and spread traditional Cambodian arts. Chorn-Pond and the blossoming CLA provided these artists with instruments, teaching spaces, and a salary to nurture the revitalization of Cambodian culture. By offering classes to youths, CLA spreads Cambodian artistic heritage and focuses on the preservation and recovery of Cambodian traditional arts. Over the years, CLA grew to support 16 Master Artists and 11 assistant teachers reaching over 200 students in 8 provinces in Cambodia yearly.
“We believe that through creativity we can each expand our potential as human beings.”

            More than simply recovering and preserving Cambodian arts, CLA hope to create self-sustainable channels of empowerment and global awareness of Cambodia’s history and culture. In 2010, CLA was awarded a Global Vision Award for Cultural Restoration from Travel + Leisure magazine. Their work promoting peace in Cambodia has led to a cultural transformation. Through the arts, individuals and communities connect with their heritage and identity lost during a dark time of oppression.

            Like CLA, Peace Works Travel (PWT) values peace and the restoration of culture and identity in countries stricken with war, oppression, and genocide. Through educating youth on these atrocities and their effects on the people, students become advocates and evolve into globally conscious citizens. Currently, PWT has two upcoming trips to Cambodia: an 11-day Cambodia Alive! Tour and a 15-day Renaissance Tour. Both of these trips include workshops with CLA, such as sitting in on classes, trying out instruments, and listening to teachers share their incredible stories.

All Kidding Aside, A Great Teacher

Published December 9, 2013

Francis Parker group visiting Sapa in the northern part of Vietnam, Spring 2012 in front of their home stay accommodations with their host (front middle)

Eric Taylor, a History teacher at Francis Parker School in San Diego talks about the importance of travelling abroad. He describes travelling with students as an educational tool that is necessary for human development. It adds “texture” to education and to the lives of people. Mr. Taylor truly has embraced why the travel abroad experience with students is not just about learning.  Those experiences are about tuning into oneself, into each other, and shaping one another as part of humanity. He enthusiastically explains how trips abroad are about leading life lessons and education that cannot be grasped from a book. After three trips with Peace Works Travel (PWT) and Alethea Tyner Paradis, director of PWT, Francis Parker students are very excited for their next journey to Vietnam this upcoming year. In the following interview Mr. Taylor talks about his experience, his gain, his student’s gain, and why he does what he does.

PWT: What did you study in college?

ET: I joke about it, but I majored in history and I minored in beach.  I went to UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara) and I grew up in a rural part of California, the beach and city were so foreign that I was very attracted to it. I also studied comparative history looking at the globe and various contacts. I later began to focus on American history. Those were my under-graduate studies and now I have three masters’ degrees in various other humanities. I have been fascinated by reading as much as I can to learn about conflicts and how people react.

PWT: Why did you become a teacher? What do you love about it?

ET: I became a teacher because I wanted to be poor, overworked and generally punished by society. I’m kidding! (as he laughs) I like conversations with people. I think learning from people, you learn about people; so teaching for me was kind of a no-brainer. Growing up, teaching used to be a very respected profession. It showed me how much people did or did not respect learning. Teaching for me has always been something I’m passionate about. I learn so many things from young people, just because they see the world in a different way and they have a different perspective. Even though, chances are 99% of what I say in the classroom is irrelevant to them, every now and then there might be something that can catch them. It’s very cool that we can shape each other, and I like that idea, very humanistic.

PWT: Why do you like leading trips of students abroad?

ET: I like the FREE travel. No really, I suffer from wanderlust. Taking kids abroad is just an extension of the education you get in the classroom, except it’s really much more powerful. You know, when you take them (people in general) out of their comfort zone, they learn new things about themselves. If I am able to help students learn more about themselves by taking them to a country where they are going to learn more about the culture, the people, their customs and histories, then that’s just an awesome way to experience education. I’ve been doing it now for a while; this is my fourth trip with Alethea and PWT. Plus two weeks’ vacation, it’s great!     

PWT: What do they learn on these experiential adventures that can’t be taught in the classroom? 

ET: You can’t really feel education. In many ways we can, when we can read something, have conversations with students that get you emotional, excited about or get goose bumps when we are studying it. Which is great because one of the major psychological foundations for why we teach is to get people inspired emotionally and also physiologically. But there’s something about travelling abroad. You can take kids out of their comfort zone, away from their parents; it forces a sense of responsibility among all of us that we usually don’t have on a daily basis. You know, making sure that we survive a trip abroad together. Everyone tunes in a little bit more, they are tuned in into each other a little more, they are listening to each other more, and they are paying really close attention to the environment because it’s so new. The psychological response to it is really intense, and so what they get out of it is so much more than what they are getting in the classroom.

It’s like showing a documentary about a place and going to that place and just recognizing that you may know everything you can about a place.  You don’t really get it until you go there and realize that even though you think you know about the culture, you know nothing about the culture. You haven’t been there to interact with the culture and the people that are there creating it.

It’s fun to say that you are going to walk the streets of Hanoi, and several thousand motorcycles come at you (because that’s how it works), but when you go and try to cross the street in Hanoi and realize that you might get run over by several thousand motorcycles, its just something you can’t get in the classroom. 
PWT: Leading these trips is a lot of work and responsibility. Why is it “worth it?” to you?

ET: It’s great because it requires me to be a teacher in a different way.  For me it adds a layer of knowledge to what I do that allows me to become more of a master of that knowledge.  I then can pass that knowledge to the students in a much more confident way. In a much more textured way so that I can tell them stories about things I saw, things that we did together in Vietnam and what that means to the bigger picture of globalization and cultural blending of people. I know that abroad there will always be dozens of experiences that will allow me to become a more complex person, not only in my everyday life, but also in the classroom. It allows me to add that texture to a conversation.    

PWT: Why is working with Alethea and Peace Works Travel better/more rewarding?

ET: I really can’t say because I haven’t worked with anyone but Alethea. But, working with Alethea is rewarding because you have an entrepreneur that is a teacher. She knows very well that it is the human element of the transaction that matters most. Meaning, working with her is meaningful because she recognizes that you are not just someone providing an experience, you are actually a human being who is in the experience.  Alethea is a very humble, magnanimous and kind person. She recognizes that what she is doing is going to make literal people much more complex and interesting.  She understands how people are not just something to be profited on, but people are designed to interact. Working with her is really human, and I really appreciate that.

PWT: What would you say to a teacher who is considering taking students abroad for the first time?

ET: You have to be courageous, you have to be well prepared and you have to be willing to expect the unexpected. You are going to have to be more mature and recognize that the world is not simply organized, but it takes a lot of work to organize the world. Generally have an open mind and expect to have a lot of fun. By the end of the trip, you will be a much more complicated and articulated person. 

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95

Published December 5, 2013

Kim Ludbrook/European Pressphoto Agency

Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule and served as his country’s first black president, becoming an international emblem of dignity and forbearance, died Thursday. He was 95.

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, announced Mr. Mandela’s death.
Mr. Mandela had long declared he wanted a quiet exit, but the time he spent in a Pretoria hospital in recent months was a clamor of quarreling family, hungry news media, spotlight-seeking politicians and a national outpouring of affection and loss. The vigil even eclipsed a recent visit by President Obama, who paid homage to Mr. Mandela but decided not to intrude on the privacy of a dying man he considered his hero.
Mr. Mandela will be buried, according to his wishes, in the village of Qunu, where he grew up. The exhumed remains of three of his children were reinterred there in early July under a court order, resolving a family squabble that had played out in the news media.
Mr. Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.
The question most often asked about Mr. Mandela was how, after whites had systematically humiliated his people, tortured and murdered many of his friends, and cast him into prison for 27 years, he could be so evidently free of spite.
The government he formed when he finally won the chance was an improbable fusion of races and beliefs, including many of his former oppressors. When he became president, he invited one of his white wardens to the inauguration. Mr. Mandela overcame a personal mistrust bordering on loathing to share both power and a Nobel Peace Prize with the white president who preceded him, F. W. de Klerk.
And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites against their fears of vengeance.
The explanation for his absence of rancor, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire.
When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 — after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? — his answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.
Except for a youthful flirtation with black nationalism, he seemed to have genuinely transcended the racial passions that tore at his country. Some who worked with him said this apparent magnanimity came easily to him because he always regarded himself as superior to his persecutors.
In his five years as president, Mr. Mandela, though still a sainted figure abroad, lost some luster at home as he strained to hold together a divided populace and to turn a fractious liberation movement into a credible government.
Some blacks — including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mr. Mandela’s former wife, who cultivated a following among the most disaffected blacks — complained that he had moved too slowly to narrow the vast gulf between the impoverished black majority and the more prosperous white minority. Some whites said he had failed to control crime, corruption and cronyism. Some blacks deserted government to make money; some whites emigrated, taking capital and knowledge with them.
Undoubtedly Mr. Mandela had become less attentive to the details of governing, turning over the daily responsibilities to the deputy who would succeed him in 1999, Thabo Mbeki.
But few among his countrymen doubted that without his patriarchal authority and political shrewdness South Africa might well have descended into civil war long before it reached its imperfect state of democracy.
After leaving the presidency, Mr. Mandela brought that moral stature to bear elsewhere around the continent, as a peace broker and champion of greater outside investment.
Rise of a ‘Troublemaker’
Mr. Mandela was deep into a life prison term when he caught the notice of the world as a symbol of the opposition to apartheid, literally “apartness” in the Afrikaans language — a system of racial gerrymandering that stripped blacks of their citizenship and relegated them to reservation-style “homelands” and townships.
Around 1980, exiled leaders of the foremost anti-apartheid movement, the African National Congress, decided that this eloquent lawyer was the perfect hero to humanize their campaign against the system that denied 80 percent of South Africans any voice in their own affairs. “Free Nelson Mandela,” which was already a liberation chant within South Africa, became a pop-chart anthem in Britain, and Mr. Mandela’s face bloomed on placards at student rallies in America aimed at mustering trade sanctions against the apartheid regime.
Mr. Mandela noted with some amusement in his 1994 autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” that this congregation made him the world’s best-known political prisoner without knowing precisely who he was. Probably it was just his impish humor, but he claimed to have been told that when posters went up in London, many young supporters thought Free was his Christian name.
In South Africa, though, and among those who followed the country’s affairs more closely, Nelson Mandela was already a name to reckon with.
He was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, a tiny village of cows, corn and mud huts in the rolling hills of the Transkei, a former British protectorate in the south. His given name, he enjoyed pointing out, translates colloquially as “troublemaker.” He received his more familiar English name from a teacher when he began school at age 7. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a chief of the Thembu people, a subdivision of the Xhosa nation.
When Nelson was an infant, his father was stripped of his chieftainship by a British magistrate for insubordination — showing a proud stubborn streak his son willingly claimed as an inheritance.
Nine years later, on the death of his father, young Nelson was taken into the home of the paramount chief of the Thembu — not as an heir to power, but in a position to study it. He would become worldly and westernized, but some of his closest friends would always attribute his regal self-confidence (and his occasional autocratic behavior) to his upbringing in a royal household.
Unlike many black South Africans, whose confidence had been crushed by generations of officially proclaimed white superiority, Mr. Mandela never seemed to doubt that he was the equal of any man. “The first thing to remember about Mandela is that he came from a royal family,” said Ahmed Kathrada, an activist who shared a prison cellblock with Mr. Mandela and was part of his inner circle. “That always gave him a strength.”
In his autobiography, Mr. Mandela recalled eavesdropping on the endless consensus-seeking deliberations of the tribal council, and noticing that the chief worked “like a shepherd.”
“He stays behind the flock,” he continued, “letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”
That would often be his own style as leader and president.
Mr. Mandela maintained his close ties to the royal family of the Thembu tribe, a large and influential constituency in the important Transkei region. And his background there gave him useful insights into the sometimes tribal politics of South Africa.

Most important, it helped him manage the lethal divisions within the large Zulu nation, which was rived by a power struggle between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party. While many A.N.C. leaders demonized the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Mr. Mandela embraced him into his new unity government and finally quelled the violence.

Mr. Mandela once explained in an interview that the key to peace in the Zulu nation was simple: Mr. Buthelezi had been raised as a member of the royal Zulu family, but as a nephew, not in the direct line of succession, leaving him tortured by a sense of insecurity about his position. The solution was to love him into acquiescence.
Joining a Movement
The enlarging of Mr. Mandela’s outlook began at Methodist missionary schools and the University College of Fort Hare, then the only residential college for blacks in South Africa. Mr. Mandela said later that he had entered the university still thinking of himself as a Xhosa first and foremost, but left with a broader African perspective.
Studying law at Fort Hare, he fell in with Oliver Tambo, another leader-to-be of the liberation movement. The two were suspended for a student protest in 1940 and sent home on the verge of expulsion. Much later, Mr. Mandela called the episode — his refusal to yield on a minor point of principle — “foolhardy.”
On returning to his home village, he learned that his family had chosen a bride for him. Finding the woman unappealing and the prospect of a career in tribal government even more so, he ran away to the black metropolis of Soweto, following other young blacks who had left mostly to work in the gold mines around Johannesburg.
There he was directed to Walter Sisulu, who ran a real estate business and was a spark plug in the African National Congress. Mr. Sisulu looked upon the tall young man with his aristocratic bearing and confident gaze and, he recalled in an interview, decided that his prayers had been answered.
Mr. Mandela soon impressed the activists with his ability to win over doubters. “His starting point is that ‘I am going to persuade this person no matter what,’ ” Mr. Sisulu said. “That is his gift. He will go to anybody, anywhere, with that confidence. Even when he does not have a strong case, he convinces himself that he has.”
Mr. Mandela, though he never completed his law degree, opened the first black law partnership in South Africa with Mr. Tambo. He took up amateur boxing, rising before dawn to run roadwork. Tall and slim, he was also somewhat vain. He wore impeccable suits, displaying an attention to fashion that would much later be evident in the elegantly bright loose shirts of African cloth that became his trademark.
Impatient with the seeming impotence of their elders in the African National Congress, Mr. Mandela, Mr. Tambo, Mr. Sisulu and other militants organized the A.N.C. Youth League, issuing a manifesto so charged with Pan-African nationalism that some of their nonblack sympathizers were offended.
Africanism versus nonracialism: that was the great divide in liberation thinking. The black consciousness movement, whose most famous martyr was Steve Biko, argued that before Africans could take their place in a multiracial state their confidence and sense of responsibility must be rebuilt.
Mr. Mandela, too, was attracted to this doctrine of self-sufficiency.
“I was angry at the white man, not at racism,” he wrote in his autobiography. “While I was not prepared to hurl the white man into the sea, I would have been perfectly happy if he climbed aboard his steamships and left the continent of his own volition.”
In his conviction that blacks should liberate themselves, he joined friends in breaking up Communist Party meetings because he regarded Communism as an alien, non-African ideology, and for a time he insisted that the A.N.C. keep a distance from Indian and mixed-race political movements.
“This was the trend of the youth at that time,” Mr. Sisulu said. But Mr. Mandela, he said, was never “an extreme nationalist,” or much of an ideologue of any stripe. He was a man of action.
He was also, already, a man of audacious self-confidence.
Joe Matthews, who worked for Mr. Mandela in the Youth League (and later became a moderate voice in the rival Inkatha movement), heard Mr. Mandela speak at a black-tie dinner in 1952 and predict, in what the audience took as impudence, that he would be the first president of free South Africa.
“He was not a theoretician, but he was a doer,” Mr. Matthews said in an interview for the television documentary program “Frontline.” “He was a man who did things, and he was always ready to volunteer to be the first to do any dangerous or difficult thing.”
Five years after forming the Youth League, the young rebels engineered a generational takeover of the African National Congress.
During his years as a young lawyer in Soweto, Mr. Mandela married a nurse, Evelyn Ntoko Mase, and they had four children, including a daughter who died at 9 months. But the demands of his politics kept him from his family. Compounding the strain was his wife’s joining the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a sect that abjures any participation in politics. The marriage grew cold and ended with abruptness.
“He said, ‘Evelyn, I feel that I have no love for you anymore,’ ” his first wife said in an interview for a documentary film. “ ‘I’ll give you the children and the house.’ ”
Not long afterward, a friend introduced him to Nomzamo Winifred Madikizela, a stunning and strong-willed medical social worker 16 years his junior. Mr. Mandela was smitten, declaring on their first date that he would marry her. He did so in 1958, while he and other activists were in the midst of a marathon trial on treason charges. His second marriage would be tumultuous, producing two daughters and a national drama of forced separation, devotion, remorse and acrimony.
A Shift to Militancy
In 1961, with the patience of the liberation movement stretched to the snapping point by the police killing of 69 peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville township the previous year, Mr. Mandela led the African National Congress onto a new road of armed insurrection.
It was an abrupt shift for a man who, not many weeks earlier, had proclaimed nonviolence an inviolable principle of the A.N.C. He later explained that forswearing violence “was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”
Taking as his text Che Guevara’s “Guerrilla Warfare,” Mr. Mandela became the first commander of a motley liberation army, grandly named Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation.
Although he denied it throughout his life, there is persuasive evidence that about this time Mr. Mandela briefly joined the South African Communist Party, the A.N.C.’s partner in opening the armed resistance. Mr. Mandela presumably joined for the party’s connections to Communist countries that would finance the campaign of violence. Stephen Ellis, a British historian who in 2011 found reference to Mr. Mandela’s membership in secret party minutes, said Mr. Mandela “wasn’t a real convert; it was just an opportunist thing.”
Mr. Mandela’s exploits in the “armed struggle” have been somewhat mythologized. During his months as a cloak-and-dagger outlaw, the press christened him “the Black Pimpernel.” But while he trained for guerrilla fighting and sought weapons for Spear of the Nation, he saw no combat. The A.N.C.’s armed activities were mostly confined to planting land mines, blowing up electrical stations and committing occasional acts of terrorism against civilians.
After the first free elections in South Africa, Spear of the Nation’s reputation was stained by admissions of human rights abuses in its training camps, though no evidence emerged that Mr. Mandela was complicit in them.
During Trial, a Legend Grows
South Africa’s rulers were determined to put Mr. Mandela and his comrades out of action. In 1956, he and scores of other dissidents were arrested on charges of treason. The state botched the prosecution, and after the acquittal Mr. Mandela went underground. Upon his capture he was charged with inciting a strike and leaving the country without a passport. His legend grew when, on the first day of that trial, he entered the courtroom wearing a traditional Xhosa leopard-skin cape to underscore that he was an African entering a white man’s jurisdiction.
That trial resulted in a three-year sentence, but it was just a warm-up for the main event. Next Mr. Mandela and eight other A.N.C. leaders were charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state — capital crimes. It was called the Rivonia trial, for the name of the farm where the defendants had conspired and where a trove of incriminating documents was found — many in Mr. Mandela’s handwriting — outlining and justifying a violent campaign to bring down the regime.
At Mr. Mandela’s suggestion, the defendants, certain of conviction, set out to turn the trial into a moral drama that would vindicate them in the court of world opinion. They admitted that they had organized a liberation army and had engaged in sabotage and tried to lay out a political justification for these acts. Among themselves, they agreed that even if sentenced to hang, they would refuse on principle to appeal.
The four-hour speech with which Mr. Mandela opened the defense case was one of the most eloquent of his life, and — in the view of his authorized biographer, Anthony Sampson — it established him as the leader not only of the A.N.C. but also of the international movement against apartheid.
Mr. Mandela described his personal evolution from the temptations of black nationalism to the politics of multiracialism. He acknowledged that he was the commander of Spear of the Nation, but asserted that he had turned to violence only after nonviolent resistance had been foreclosed. He conceded that he had made alliances with Communists — a powerful current in the prosecution case in those cold war days — but likened this to Churchill’s cooperation with Stalin against Hitler.
He finished with a coda of his convictions that would endure as an oratorical highlight of South African history.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” he told the court. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Under considerable pressure from liberals at home and abroad (including a nearly unanimous vote of the United Nations General Assembly) to spare the defendants, the judge acquitted one and sentenced Mr. Mandela and the others to life in prison.
An Education in Prison
Mr. Mandela was 44 when he was manacled and put on a ferry to the Robben Island prison. He would be 71 when he was released.
Robben Island, in shark-infested waters about seven miles off Cape Town, had over the centuries been a naval garrison, a mental hospital and a leper colony, but it was most famously a prison. For Mr. Mandela and his co-defendants, it began with a nauseating ferry ride, during which guards amused themselves by urinating down the air vents on the prisoners below.
The routine on Robben Island was one of isolation, boredom and petty humiliations, met with frequent shows of resistance. By day the men were marched to a limestone quarry, where the fine dust stirred up by their labors glued their tear ducts shut.
But in some ways prison was less arduous than life outside in those unsettled times. For Mr. Mandela and others, Robben Island was a university. In whispered conversations as they hacked at the limestone, and in tightly written polemics handed from cellblock to cellblock, the prisoners debated everything from Marxism to circumcision.
Mr. Mandela learned Afrikaans, the language of the dominant whites, and urged other prisoners to do the same.
He honed his skills as a leader, negotiator and proselytizer, and not only the factions among the prisoners but also some of the white administrators found his charm and iron will irresistible. He credited his prison experience with teaching him the tactics and strategy that would make him president.
Almost from his arrival he assumed a kind of command. The first time his lawyer, George Bizos, visited him, Mr. Mandela greeted him and then introduced his eight guards by name — to their amazement — as “my guard of honor.” The prison authorities began treating him as a prison elder statesman.
During his time on the island, a new generation of political inmates arose, defiant veterans of a national student uprising who at first resisted the authority of the elders but gradually came under their tutelage. Years later Mr. Mandela recalled the young hotheads with a measure of exasperation:
“When you say, ‘What are you going to do?’ they say, ‘We will attack and destroy them!’ I say: ‘All right, have you analyzed how strong they are, the enemy? Have you compared their strength to your strength?’ They say, ‘No, we will just attack!’ ”
Perhaps because Mr. Mandela was so revered, he was singled out for gratuitous cruelties by the authorities. On Robben Island the wardens left newspaper clippings in his cell telling how his wife had been cited as the other woman in a divorce case, and about the persecution she and her children endured after being exiled to a bleak town 250 miles from Johannesburg.
He was denied permission to attend the funerals of his mother and of his oldest son, who died in a car accident while Mr. Mandela was on Robben Island.
Friends say his experiences steeled his self-control and made him, more than ever, a man who buried his emotions deep, who spoke in the collective “we” of liberation rhetoric.
Still, Mr. Mandela said he regarded his prison experience as a major factor in his nonracial outlook. He said prison tempered any desire for vengeance by exposing him to sympathetic white guards who smuggled in newspapers and extra rations, and to moderates within the National Party government who approached him in hopes of opening a dialogue. Above all, prison taught him to be a master negotiator.
The Negotiations Begin
Mr. Mandela’s decision to begin negotiations with the white government was one of the most momentous of his life, and he made it like an autocrat, without consulting his comrades, knowing full well that they would resist.
“My comrades did not have the advantages that I had of brushing shoulders with the V.I.P.’s who came here, the judges, the minister of justice, the commissioner of prisons, and I had come to overcome my own prejudice towards them,” he recalled. “So I decided to present my colleagues with a fait accompli.”
With an overture to Kobie Coetsee, the justice minister, and a visit to President P. W. Botha, Mr. Mandela, in 1986, began what would be years of negotiations on the future of South Africa. The encounters, remarkably, were characterized by little rancor and mutual shows of respect. When he occupied the president’s office, Mr. Mandela would delightedly show visitors where President Botha had poured him tea.
Mr. Mandela demanded as a show of good will that Walter Sisulu and other defendants in the Rivonia trial be released. President F. W. de Klerk, Mr. Botha’s successor, complied.
In the last months of his imprisonment, as the negotiations gathered force, he was relocated to Victor Verster Prison outside Cape Town, where the government could meet with him conveniently and monitor his health. (In prison he had had prostate surgery and lung problems, and the government was terrified of the uproar if he died in captivity.) He lived in a warden’s bungalow. He had access to a swimming pool, a garden, a chef and a VCR. A suit was tailored for his meetings with government luminaries.
(After his release he built a vacation home near his ancestral village, a brick replica of the warden’s house. This was pure pragmatism, he explained: he was accustomed to the floor plan and could find the bathroom at night without stumbling in the dark.)
From the moment they learned of the talks, Mr. Mandela’s allies in the A.N.C. were suspicious, and their worries were not allayed when the government allowed them to confer with Mr. Mandela at his quarters in the warden’s house.
Tokyo Sexwale, who had come to Robben Island as a student rebel, recalled in a “Frontline” interview encountering Mr. Mandela in this comfortable house. Mr. Mandela walked them through the house, showing off the television and the microwave. “And,” Mr. Sexwale said, “I thought, ‘I think you are sold out.’ ”
Mr. Mandela seated his visitors at a table and patiently explained his view that the enemy was morally and politically defeated, with nothing left but the army, the country ungovernable. His strategy, he said, was to give the white rulers every chance to retreat in an orderly way. He was preparing to meet Mr. de Klerk, who had just taken over from Mr. Botha.
Free in a Changed World
In February 1990, Mr. Mandela walked out of prison alongside his wife into a world that he knew little, and that knew him less. The African National Congress was now torn by factions — the prison veterans, those who had spent the years of struggle working legally in labor unions, and the exiles who had spent them in foreign capitals. The white government was also split, with some committed to negotiating an honest new order while others fomented factional violence in hopes of disabling the black political leadership.
Over the next four years Mr. Mandela would be embroiled in a laborious negotiation, not only with the white government, but also with his own fractious alliance.
But first he took time for a victory lap around the world, including an eight-city tour of the United States that began with a motorcade through delirious crowds in New York City.
The anti-apartheid movement had had a rocky relationship with United States governments, which saw South Africa through the lens of the cold war rivalry with Communists and also regarded the country as an important source of uranium. Until the late 1980s the Central Intelligence Agency portrayed the A.N.C. as Communist-dominated. There have been allegations, neither substantiated nor dispelled, that a C.I.A. agent had tipped the police officers who arrested Mr. Mandela.
Congress, following popular sentiment, enacted economic sanctions against investment in South Africa in 1986, overriding the veto of President Ronald Reagan. Even at the time of his euphoric public welcome in the United States, Mr. Mandela was regarded with some official misgivings, because of both his devotion to economic sanctions and his loyalties to various self-styled liberation figures like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and Yasir Arafat.
While Mr. Mandela had languished in prison, a campaign of civil disobedience was under way. No one participated more enthusiastically than Winnie Mandela.
A Troubled Marriage
By the time of her husband’s imprisonment, the Mandelas had produced two daughters but had little time to enjoy a domestic life. For most of their marriage they saw each other through the thick glass partition of the prison visiting room: for 21 years of his captivity, they never touched.
She was, however, a megaphone to the outside world, a source of information on friends and comrades and an interpreter of his views through the journalists who came to visit her. She was tormented by the police, jailed and banished with her children to a remote Afrikaner town, Brandfort, where she challenged her captors at every turn.
By the time she was released into the tumult of Soweto in 1984, she had became a firebrand. She now dressed in military khakis and boots and spoke in a violent rhetoric, notoriously endorsing the practice of “necklacing” foes, incinerating them in a straitjacket of gasoline-soaked tires. She surrounded herself with young thugs who terrorized, kidnapped and killed blacks she deemed hostile to the cause.
Friends said Mr. Mandela’s choice of his cause over his family often filled him with remorse — so much so that long after Winnie Mandela was widely known to have conducted a reign of terror, long after she was implicated in the kidnapping and murder of young township activists, long after the marriage was effectively dead, Mr. Mandela refused to utter a word of criticism.
As president, he bowed to her popularity by appointing her deputy minister of arts, a position in which she became entangled in financial scandals and increasingly challenged the government for appeasing whites. In 1995 Mr. Mandela finally filed for divorce, which was granted the next year after an emotionally wrenching public hearing.
Mr. Mandela later fell publicly in love with Graça Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique and an activist in her own right for humanitarian causes. They married on Mr. Mandela’s 80th birthday. She survives him, as do his two daughters by Winnie Mandela, Zenani and Zindziswa; a daughter, Makaziwe, by his first wife; 17 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.
A Deal for Majority Rule
Two years after Mr. Mandela’s release from prison, black and white leaders met in a convention center on the outskirts of Johannesburg for negotiations that would lead, fitfully, to an end of white rule. While outside in the country extremists black and white used violence to tilt the outcome their way, Mr. Mandela and the white president, Mr. de Klerk, argued and maneuvered toward a peaceful transfer of power.
Mr. Mandela understood the mutual need in his relationship with Mr. de Klerk, a proud, dour, chain-smoking pragmatist, but he never much liked or fully trusted him. Two years into the negotiations, the men were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and their appearance together in Oslo in 1993 was marked by bouts of pique and recriminations. In a conversation a year after becoming president, with Mr. de Klerk as deputy president, Mr. Mandela said he still suspected Mr. de Klerk of complicity in the murders of countless blacks by police and army units, a rogue “third force” opposed to black rule.
Eventually, though, Mr. Mandela and his negotiating team, led by the former labor leader Cyril Ramaphosa, found their way to the grand bargain that assured free elections in exchange for promising opposition parties a share of power and a guarantee that whites would not be subjected to reprisals.
At times, the ensuing election campaign seemed in danger of collapsing into chaos. Strife between rival Zulu factions cost hundreds of lives, and white extremists set off bombs at campaign rallies and assassinated the second most popular black figure, Chris Hani.
But the fear was more than offset by the excitement in black townships. Mr. Mandela, wearing a hearing aid and orthopedic socks, soldiered on through 12-hour campaign days, igniting euphoric crowds packed into dusty soccer stadiums and perched on building tops to sing liberation songs and cheer.
During elections in April 1994, voters lined up in some places for miles. The African National Congress won 62 percent of the vote, earning 252 of the 400 seats in Parliament’s National Assembly and ensuring that Mr. Mandela, as party leader, would be named president when Parliament convened.
Mr. Mandela was sworn in as president on May 10, and he accepted office with a speech of shared patriotism, summoning South Africans’ communal exhilaration in their land and their common relief at being freed from the world’s disapproval.
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world,” he declared.
Then nine Mirage fighter jets of the South African Air Force, originally purchased to help keep someone like Mr. Mandela from taking power, roared overhead, and 50,000 roared back from the lawn spread below the government buildings in Pretoria, “Viva the South African Air Force, viva!”
Limitations as a President
As president, Mr. Mandela set a style that was informal and multiracial. He lived much of the time in a modest house in Johannesburg, where he made his own bed. He enjoyed inviting visiting foreign dignitaries to shake hands with the woman who served them tea.
But he was also casual, even careless, in his relationships with rich capitalists, the mining tycoons, retailers and developers whose continued investment he saw as vital to South Africa’s economy. Before the election, he went to 20 industrialists and asked each for at least one million rand ($275,000 at the exchange rate of that time) to build up his party and finance the campaign. In office, he was unabashed about taking their phone calls — and bristled when unions organized a strike against some of his big donors. He enjoyed socializing with the very rich and the show-business celebrities who flocked to pay homage.
At the same time, he was insistent that the black majority should not expect instant material gratification. He told union leaders at one point to “tighten your belts” and accept low wages so that investment would flow. “We must move from the position of a resistance movement to one of builders,” he said in an interview the next day, musing on the impatience of his allies.
Mr. Mandela exhibited a genius for the grand gesture of reconciliation. Some attempts, like a tea he organized of prominent A.N.C. women and the wives of apartheid-era white officials, were awkward.
Others were triumphant. Few in South Africa, whatever their race, were unmoved in June 1995 when the South African rugby team, long a symbol of white arrogance, defeated New Zealand in a World Cup final, a moment dramatized in the 2009 film “Invictus.” Mr. Mandela strode onto the field wearing the team’s green jersey, and 80,000 fans, mostly Afrikaners, erupted in a chant of “Nel-son! Nel-son!”
Mr. Mandela’s instinct for compromise in the interest of unity was evident in the 1995 creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, devised to balance justice and forgiveness in a reckoning of the country’s history. The panel offered individual amnesties for anyone who testified fully on the crimes committed during the apartheid period.
In the end, the process fell short of both truth (both white officials and A.N.C. leaders were evasive) and reconciliation (many blacks found that information only fed their anger). But it was generally counted a success, giving South Africans who had lost loved ones to secret graves a chance to reclaim their grief, while avoiding the spectacle of endless trials.
There was a limit, though, to how much Mr. Mandela — by exhortation, by symbolism, by regal appeals to the better natures of his constituents — could paper over the gulf between white privilege and black privation.
After Mr. Mandela delivered one miracle in the shape of South Africa’s freedom, it was perhaps too much to expect that he could deliver another in the form of broad prosperity. In his term, he made only modest progress in fulfilling the modest goals he had set for housing, education and jobs.
He tried with limited success to transform the police from an instrument of white supremacy to an effective crime-fighting force. Corruption and cronyism (which predated majority rule) blossomed. Foreign investment, despite the universal high esteem for Mr. Mandela, kept its distance.
Racial divisions, kept in check by the euphoria of the peaceful transition and by Mr. Mandela’s moral authority, re-emerged somewhat as the ultimate problem of closing the income gap remained unresolved.
The South African journalist Mark Gevisser, in his 2007 biography of Mr. Mandela’s successor as president, Thabo Mbeki, wrote: “The overriding legacy of the Mandela presidency — of the years 1994 to 1999 — is a country where the rule of law was entrenched in an unassailable Bill of Rights, and where the predictions of racial and ethnic conflict did not come true. These feats, alone, guarantee Mandela his sanctity. But he was a far better liberator and nation-builder than he was a governor.”
In addition, Mr. Mandela bequeathed his country a virtual one-party system with a circle-the-wagons attitude toward allegations of corruption, a distaste for criticism in the news media and a tendency to treat rival parties as verging on treasonous. Neither liberal nor conservative opposition parties managed to organize themselves into a credible alternative to the A.N.C.
Mr. Mandela himself deferred to his party, notably in the choice of a successor. After the party favorite, Mr. Mbeki, had succeeded to the presidency, Mr. Mandela let it be known that he had actually preferred the younger Mr. Ramaphosa, the former mine workers’ union leader who had negotiated the new Constitution. Mr. Mbeki knew and resented that he was not the favorite, and for much of his presidency he snubbed Mr. Mandela.
Mr. Mandela mostly refrained from directly criticizing his successor, but his disappointment was unmistakable when Mr. Mbeki showed his intolerance of criticism and his conspiratorial view of the world. When Mr. Mbeki questioned mainstream medical explanations of the cause of AIDS, stifling open discussion that might have helped cope with a galloping epidemic, Mr. Mandela spoke up on the need for protected sex and cheaper medicines. When his eldest son, Makgatho, died in 2005, Mr. Mandela gathered family members to publicly disclose that the cause was AIDS.
In the 2007 interview, speaking on the condition that he not be quoted until after his death, Mr. Mandela was openly scornful of Mr. Mbeki’s leadership. The A.N.C., he said, had always succeeded as a movement and a party because it had drawn on the collective wisdom of its many constituencies.
“There is a great deal of centralization now under President Mbeki, where he takes decisions himself,” Mr. Mandela declared. “We never liked that.”
Mr. Mbeki often found it excruciating to govern in Mr. Mandela’s shadow. He felt his predecessor had dealt him a nearly impossible hand — first by encouraging the notion that South Africa’s liberation was the magic of one great black man, and second by emphasizing accommodation with white power and thus doing relatively little to relieve the impoverished black majority.
In interviews published in Mr. Gevisser’s biography, Mr. Mbeki chafed at President Mandela’s ability to rule by charm and stature, with little attention to the mechanics of governing.
“Madiba didn’t pay any attention to what the government was doing,” Mr. Mbeki said, using the clan name for his predecessor. “We had to, because somebody had to.”
As a former president, Mr. Mandela lent his charisma to a variety of causes on the African continent, joining peace talks in several wars and assisting his wife, Graça, in raising money for children’s aid organizations.
In 2010, the World Cup soccer games took place in South Africa, another sporting-world benediction of the peace Mr. Mandela did so much to deliver to his country. But for Mr. Mandela, the proud occasion turned to heartbreak when his 13-year-old granddaughter Zenani was killed in an auto accident while returning from an opening-day concert. Mr. Mandela, who had been instrumental in luring the tournament to its first African setting, canceled his plans to attend the opening day.
By then, his hearing and memory shaky, he had already largely withdrawn from public debate, declining almost all interview requests and confining himself to scripted public statements on issues like the war in Iraq. (He was vehemently against it.)
When he received a reporter for the 2007 interview, his aides were already contending with a custody battle over Mr. Mandela’s legacy — including where he would be buried and how he would be memorialized. Mr. Mandela insisted that his burial be left to his widow, and be done with minimal fanfare. His acolytes had other plans.
Published: December 5, 2013