The Urban Guru Website

Madiba, the Last Giant

07/12/2013 15:00

Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013 in Johannesburg. His life is being celebrated all over the planet, in every town and city, by every activist, artist, politician, by millions of people. He was undoubtfully  the greatest man of our time, a symbol of resistance, justice, dignity, reconciliation, a quasi-religious icon, an inspiration to the world.

In my view the media did not emphasize enough that he was also a very astute and sophisticated negotiator, who has been able to reach understandings and agreements with both his adversaries and his friends. During the years 1988-1994, in the crucial transition period, he had to convince the ANC radicals that there was a peaceful way out of the apartheid and to convince the National Party that there would be a place for Afrikaners in a democratic South Africa. He had to calm Inkatha supporters fighting for the autonomy of KwaZulu land and make the case for a unitary state. He was firm on long-term principles, but ready to compromise on short-term advantages. With the help of Cyril Ramaphosa and Joe Slovo, he maneuvered smoothly, combining charm and force, speaking loudly in public but advancing secretly when necessary. Finally he transformed his country through a peaceful transition that had an impact on the entire world. If negotiation is an art, Mandela was a top-class artist. 

Similarly the media have not insisted enough on the fact that Nelson Mandela was probably the last Great Man in history, or at least the last giant of the 20th century. It seems that the globalization era will not see any more great men or women. Already most political leaders appear to share a common mediocrity. Indeed in our globalized world, individual politicians have lost their grip on the destiny of their nations and leadership is becoming more corporate, collective, anonymous, less ambitious and less charismatic.

We will remember Madiba - his smile, his sportive spirit, his quietness - as a man who should have been President of the World.  Let’s hope that the Last Giant could rest in peace, and that his legacy will help humankind to build peace, justice and freedom for all.


June 1995, South Africa wins the Rugby World Cup. Nelson Mandela wears the Springboks jersey, bringing symbolically the white community into the Rainbow Nation. A masterpiece of soft power and negotiating skills.