The Presidential Years

TT - When that respect and trust in their integrity is abused he would be angry in public.

Graca Machel - Not only very angry!

I used to say, it’s so good to be on the side of Madiba but don’t ever be on the opposite side, because the moment you're on the opposite side – ah! A good example is De Klerk at CODESA and Abacha.

He sent different emissaries to speak to Abacha, including Thabo, to persuade him. But when he gave the impression that he is listening to Madiba and then hanged the Ogoni people, ah, that’s when Madiba went, because he feels that despite all the efforts of communicating these messages, not only had they been ignored but he had deceived him.

And this is something—if you deceive him, he would hardly, I wouldn’t say never, he would hardly forgive you. That’s him, you get to certain limits and then he will really rip you off in public!

TT - And yet sometimes you wouldn’t know if someone has been dismissed or resigned voluntarily.

Graca Machel - It was first, respect, and secondly Madiba, even when he has to break a relationship with you, he would never want you to be down for ever - so you had to have some kind of residual space for you to stand up again and that’s why.

It may sound as if we are staying that he was always perfect - there was in Madiba a very genuine transformation which had occurred in him from a very angry person to a more serene and balanced and forgiving person. There were moments when that angry person he used to be when he was much younger would come out because it was part of his personality and this is when if he is in public and gets angry you would feel that I better not be on the opposite side. He had managed with such discipline to transform himself, but there were moments in which these things, those elements of anger, would escape the disciplined person that he had become and then they would come out.

TT - In this regard one thinks of what Madiba said in a conversation with Kathy when, as they are revising the draft of Long Walk to Freedom, they discuss a negative comment about a former ANC president and Madiba says: I can’t say that: as a leader you must build, not destroy.

Graca Machel - One big lesson from Madiba is something which he expressed may be in different words than mine, is that he would focus mostly on the positive side of a human being rather than on the weaknesses this human being might have. He would highlight, even more, what is constructive in the role that that person played rather than what might have been the weaknesses and sometimes even weaknesses which could have undermined the organisation.

So he wouldn’t focus on those things and it requires a level of maturity which many of us never achieve, to know that a human being is made up of positive and negative, and what matters is not whether he or she made a mistake here and there. What matters more is in the journey of that person, what it is that he or she brought as a contribution to helping the cause reach a certain level. And that is why he is not interested in saying these things, when he says, ‘I can’t say this, I can’t destroy, I have to build’. It is to build the person, but it’s more important to say of this person that in these circumstances this is the contribution he and this is what is important. History is not made only of our mistakes.