As we celebrate the life and times of the late Nelson Mandela in this website’s special tribute edition, it is perhaps appropriate to balance out the high honor and respect I hold for Mandela and his elevated place in world history (and in my life personally) with a few thoughts on Mandela the man vs. Mandela the myth.
As Nelson Mandela often told the story in his lifetime: When he was preparing to come out of prison in 1990 after 27 long years, his biggest worry was that the public would see him as what he called a “demigod” — someone who was saintly, morally perfect and closer to God than the rest of us. He wanted the people of South Africa and the world to see him not that way, but rather as an ordinary man with faults and problems of his own who was struggling like everyone else.
I got a phone call one day from my boss, an overweight, middle-aged publisher of a small, weekly newspaper in my town in southern California, to go to a nearby hospital and interview some person for a story. The guy had something to say about some kind of nuclear accident, my boss said, look into it.
A young cub reporter in my early 20s, fresh to the scene and always hungry for a scoop, I called the man at the hospital and made an appointment. It was circa 1980-1981, and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 was still a hot news topic in the United States. A nationwide grassroots anti-nuclear movement was then being born. I was curious about what the man at the hospital wanted to talk about.Read more...