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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Journalists, public figures remember Nelson Mandela

Journalists, public figures remember Nelson Mandela

People worldwide are paying tribute to anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday evening at 95. Journalists and public figures are hailing him as “a giant among men,” “a very humble and gracious man” and “a saint who bore absolutely no rancor.”

Speaking from the White House Thursday, President Barack Obama, remembered the former South African president:

“He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,” Obama said. “I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. … And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set.”

Newspapers around the world honored Mandela on their front pages. /Photo courtesy of the Newseum, used with permission from The Washington Post.

Newspapers around the world honored Mandela on their front pages. /Photo courtesy of the Newseum, used with permission from The Washington Post.

 

Journalists who covered South Africa’s democratic transition in the 1990s say it was a privilege to write about Mandela. John Daniszewski, a former AP bureau chief in Johannesburg who covered Mandela as an anti-apartheid icon, presidential candidate and president, writes that he was struck by the “undiluted joy” Mandela spread among his followers. In a tribute, he recalls one of the times he met Mandela:

In a meeting for a group of foreign journalists when he was then 77, he recounted all the affairs of state and problems of the country that were keeping him busy, but made clear nevertheless that he was still energetic and still relishing the burden of leading his nation and serving as an icon for Africa and for the cause of truth and reconciliation everywhere.

“At the end of day, I have often felt that I have spent my time very fruitfully,” he told us with his typical understatement and a slight twinkle in the eye.

NBC News’ Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who has covered South Africa since the 1980s, remembered Mandela’s openness and his “insistence on forgiveness and reconciliation.” In a piece for NBC News, she writes:

There were times that I got up close to Mandela. He was always accessible, much to the dismay of his main press handler. But whenever I saw him, he was always open: At public events or speaking engagements, during his first trip to the United States when I interviewed him at the Council on Foreign Relations, and back in South Africa when he voted for just the second time in his life. And after his five-year term ended, when he was still functioning as the “father of the nation,” serving as a peacemaker in countries like Burundi and Rwanda, and organizing a group of elder statesmen to address human rights and promote peace.

She continues:

As the years wore on, I saw Mandela grow increasingly more relaxed with the media, opening wider a window into his prison life and other aspects of his “long walk to freedom,” including his two failed marriages. And no-one wanted to miss a Mandela press conference, no matter the subject.

Journalists like Daniszewski and Hunter-Gault played a powerful role in covering Mandela and the apartheid movement. Here’s a look back at how the mass media covered Mandela’s life, from his first interview to the months before his death.