For me, the greatness of Mandela was centered in his reaching past hatred, violence and injustice, to heal. As you suggested, Ebele, the TRC was a great example of this, daring and strong in mercy and compassion. But the most symbolic act for me was his support of the Springboks. This was where politics falls away and pure goodness shines through. Was he a saint? Of course not. He was as shrewd and calculating as--I want to say Jesus--as any masterful statesman. He knew this was needed, to heal. But simply doing what was needed here was so wonderful, it left politics and even statesmanship far behind.
And this is his lesson, I think, his legacy to Americans, if they will only embrace it. Far more valuable and constructive than all the criticisms listed--it seems almost with a kind of pleasure--by Shen and Legum in your post, Kevin. In my region of the Middle East, they have tried and failed, miserably, to win this and that, to beat these and those, and certainly to reach out, in their way, and the result is, as Mahmoud points out so well in the drone thread, ever increasing horror and hatred amongst the very people whom they wish to win over.
Cowards drop robot bombs. Courageous healers like Mandela listen, sympathize, forgive, reach out, endure.
The roots of violent extremism are always essentially the same--whether it is apartheid or Al Qaeda: fear, ignorance, vengeance, fanaticism, intolerance. And the roots of healing too are always essentially the same: courage, sympathy and understanding. It will be many years before the intense Muslim distrust and hatred, caused by all the winning, beating and misguided giving, can soften and become manageable, even for Muslims. But America can at least begin the long hard work of putting these fires out, simply by stopping pouring fuel on them.
Consider this from the excellent FT article "Nelson Mandela: the meaning of the Madiba magic" :
"It was August 1993. Three and a half blood-soaked years had passed since that diamond-bright afternoon when Mandela was released after 27 years in prison under apartheid. The first all-race elections set for the following April seemed impossibly distant against the backdrop of threats of secession from the white Afrikaner right and daily bloodshed in the townships. Before Mandela in a ramshackle stadium in one of Johannesburg’s desolate townships, thousands of “comrades” rattled makeshift weapons and bayed for revenge. Scores had died in the previous few days in street battles against a rival party. Yet the silver-haired septuagenarian gave no ground.
“If you have no discipline, you are not freedom fighters and we do not want you in our organisation,” he said in his distinctive reedy tones. “I am your leader. If you don’t want me, tell me to go and rest. As long as I am your leader I will tell you where you are wrong.”"
For all the good things he did and tried to do, in a way, for me, Mandela's greatness lay more in what he did not do.
And this, I think, is his greatest lesson for America.