#Mandela: “The role of the leader is to understand the anxieties of his people and do something about it.”

David McWilliams on how the Mandela deal worked for South Africa

When I asked him how the whole thing was working and whether there was any truth in the whites’ suggestion that the blacks were particularly tolerant even after everything that had occurred during white rule, he grinned and said: “They pretend it never happened and we pretend to forgive them.”

These sentiments could have come directly from that other brilliant hero to South Africans, Mahatma Gandhi, who memorably said of reconciliation: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Mandela understood this and knew that it was not, and still is not, in the gift of millions of poor Africans to forgive, but that there had to be a mechanism to deal with the past.

This type of leadership, the ability to understand not just your own people but to have the authority to bring your enemies with you, is one of the many extraordinary attributes that Mandela displayed at a critical juncture.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty