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Enlightened Rule

Portraits of Six Exceptional Twentieth Century Premiers

Paul Maylam

The twentieth century has been called an ‘age of catastrophe’, characterized by devastating wars and a general poverty of leadership at government level. This book, written in a more optimistic vein, offers biographical essays on six twentieth century heads of government – three from Latin America, and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe – who were exceptions to the norm. During their terms of office each displayed admirable qualities: moral authority, integrity, an egalitarian spirit, and a firm commitment to democracy, human rights, social justice and international peace. They shunned personality cults, grandiosity and conspicuous consumption. Their governance was shaped by high ideals, in the tradition of democratic socialism or social democracy, but also marked by pragmatism and an awareness that the realization of these ideals was not always practicable. Although some of the six became iconic, venerated figures, none of them are presented here as ‘heroes’ or ‘great leaders’. Each had failings and flaws, and each has been subject to critique. They are rather presented as government heads whose leadership has been worthy of deep respect and admiration. Had other premiers emulated their style of governance, twentieth century history would have taken a very different course.


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Chapter 7 The Global Icon: Nelson Mandela of South Africa (1994–1999) 251


CHAPTER SEVEN The Global Icon: Nelson Mandela of South Africa (1994–1999) If one were asked to identify the single most venerated iconic, global figure of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, the name of Nelson Mandela would surely spring to mind. As Kofi Annan, UN Secre- tary-General at the time, stated a few years ago, ‘[t]o this day, Madiba [Mandela’s clan name] remains prob- ably the single most admired, most respected international figure in the entire world’.1 On the occasion of Mandela’s ninetieth birthday in July 2008 Time magazine honoured him with its cover photo and lead story. The writer of the story described Mandela as ‘the closest thing the world has to a secular saint’, and as ‘a living deity’.2 Nobel Prize-winning cleric, Desmond Tutu, has called Mandela ‘a global icon for peace, love, reconciliation and magnanimity’.3 Nobel Prize-winning writer, Nadine Gordimer, has compared him to another twentieth-century icon: ‘Gandhi 1 Kofi Annan, ‘Foreword’, in Mac Maharaj, Ahmed Kathrada & Kate Parkin (eds), Mandela: The Authorised Portrait (London: Bloomsbury, 2006), p. 5. 2 Time, 21 July 2008, pp. 23, 24. 3 D. Tutu, ‘Foreword’, in Xolela Mangcu (ed.), The Meaning of Mandela (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2006), p. viii. 252 CHAPTER SEVEN and Mandela, the two indisputably magnificent great people of the last millennium, are unique in their credible moral and humanistic stand’.4 Others have showered similar accolades upon him. And the venera- tion has gained expression in many more ways: the Nobel Peace Prize, won jointly...

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