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Every time I start up our Encarta CD encyclopedia, I see a video clip of Nelson Mandela at his 1994 presidential inauguration. "Let there be justice for all," he says, in that princely African voice. "Let there be peace for all." This founding father of the new South Africa has become an icon of democratic idealism worldwide; indeed, the death of white rule in South Africa and that nation's rebirth as a multiracial democracy is one of the greatest stories of the century just passed.
Mandela's own perseverance and triumph over oppression prepared him for effective work at peacemaking, democratic reform, racial justice and national reconciliation. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, along with his fellow negotiator and frequent antagonist, F. W. de Klerk. Mandela, a man of irresistible charm and political prowess, made perhaps his most lasting accomplishment as president with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Rather than letting South Africa succumb to a spasm of post-revolutionary retribution, Mandela established a tribunal that would help the nation forgive without forgetting. As both a liberator and a healer, Nelson Mandela has be come a legendary figure, a secular saint.
It is hard to imagine a tougher writing assignment than examining a life of such mythic proportions. Yet Anthony Sampson has the right credentials, a rich fund of information and perspectives, and a deft touch. Unlike many other white observers of South Africa, Sampson is intimately acquainted with the postwar generation of black activists who led the struggle. He has known Mandela since 1951. He also has access to influential people through out the nation: Anglo business executives, Afrikaner jurists and former government officials, Asian and Jewish lawyers and civic activists, and foreign diplomats. For this biography, Sampson and his research assistant pumped information and opinions from some 250 people, nearly everyone who had significant contact with Mandela, friendly or otherwise. ...