Consider this answer to the most frequently asked question about how Mandela could forgive his enemies so easily:
And as president, from 1994 to 1999, he devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of vengeance.
The explanation for his absence of rancor, at least in part, is that Mr. Mandela was that rarity among revolutionaries and moral dissidents: a capable statesman, comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire.
When the question was put to Mr. Mandela in an interview for this obituary in 2007 — after such barbarous torment, how do you keep hatred in check? — his answer was almost dismissive: Hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate.
Mandela’s strategic vision was unpolluted. As Paul J. H. Shoemaker of Wharton points out, three key decisions illustrated his brilliant leadership capacity. By turning down Presiden’t Botha’s amnesty offer, making peace after Chris Hani’s assassination, and foregoing a second term, this “master of symbolism” reinforced his larger goals “by being magnanimous toward his former enemies.”
According to Jena McGregor in WaPo last summer, Mandela had mastered many of the other related skills of leadership–including letting people take credit for his own ideas, play the role, and even to avoid grandstanding (take note politicos and diplomats):
“Long speeches, the shaking of fists, the banging of tables and strongly worded resolutions out of touch with the objective conditions do not bring about mass action and can do a great deal of harm to the organisation and the struggle we serve.” (Presidential address to the ANC Transvaal Congress, also known as the “No Easy Walk to Freedom” speech, Transvaal, South Africa, Sept. 21, 1953)
Don’t forget that he fought with vigor against violent, determined, and historically-justified opponents–seen through this series of posters and the Frontline biopic, The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela. It makes you appreciate his courage and kindness even more–and illustrates so clearly what a statesman really is.
Also, take a look at the Voice of Mandela NYT interactive feature–a treasure of historical inspiration and rhetorical power.