Former Ambassador Remembers Mandela

Professor James A. Joseph reflects on the South African leader's legacy

Former South African president Nelson Mandela died today in Johannesburg at age 95. Duke professor emeritus James A. Joseph was the U.S. ambassador to South Africa during much of Mandela's presidency.

"Nelson Mandela was a global icon who had incredible humility," Joseph said. "But he also had a regal bearing, a dignity of the tribal chief.

"His primary legacy is of forgiveness and reconciliation. He demonstrated the potential for forgiveness that is a part of our human nature at a time when many people did not believe that this was possible."

Joseph served as ambassador to South Africa from 1996 to 2000. He is an emeritus professor of the practice at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and directs the United States-Southern Africa Center for Leadership and Public Values at Duke and the University of Cape Town. He has written a book, "Leadership as a Way of Being," on lessons he gleaned from Mandela.

"One memory that stands out would be the signing of the constitution in Sharpeville, South Africa," Joseph said about the late Mandela. "Sharpeville had been the place where in 1960 a number of people were murdered in a demonstration, and in the Anti-Apartheid Movement we always said, 'Remember Sharpeville.'

"But here I was listening to Mr. Mandela talk about forgiveness for those people [who shot the demonstrators] and I had to say to myself, 'If he can forgive, who am I not to forgive?'"