When asked if Nelson Mandela was a ruthless politician, his former pollster and campaign strategist Stan Greenberg said, “Absolutely.”
“He had clear goals. And one of the things that ran through was the desire to make sure there was racially inclusive politics,” said Greenberg,who served as a pollster and strategist for Mandela’s 1994 campaign for president of South Africa. “And he wanted to use the election to send a message about this was going to be inclusive country.”
On “This Week” Sunday, Greenberg said the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader would spend hours looking through polling data and attending focus groups. “He thought there had to be a popular sensibility,” said Greenberg, who also served as President Clinton’s pollster during his election campaigns.
Even after his presidency, Mandela, who passed away Thursday at the age of 95, maintained his status as a world leader by developing close relationships with politicians from across the globe, including several U.S. presidents.
Former New York Times South Africa bureau chief Bill Keller said it came as no surprise that Mandela developed a particular bond with President Bill Clinton, because of their love of retail politics.
“One of the things that Mandela had was the joy in the robust give and take of politics,” Keller said. “The schmoozing, the deal-making, stage-craft, the theater.”
According to Keller, Mandela was a pragmatist, willing to modify his stance, alter his rhetoric and compromise to achieve his ultimate goals.
“In the course of his life, he was a communist for a while, he was a capitalist, he was an advocate of non-violence, he was an advocate of armed struggle,” Keller said. “He was whatever it took, but he never lost sight of the man goal, which was a South Africa that was run by south Africans… He knew the difference between strategy and tactics.”
One of Mandela’s strategies, the “This Week” panel agreed, was to educate. Human rights attorney and long-time Mandela friend and supporter Dr. Gay McDougall described Mandela’s role as a professor to the other political prisoners incarcerated during the anti-apartheid movement.
“They often talk about the ‘University of Robben Island,’” McDougall said, referring to the infamous prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars. “They spent their time studying political developments around the world, deciding who as a political party and as activists they wanted to be… So that when they finally emerged from that prison they knew exactly the road that they wanted to travel.”
“I think that he came out of jail knowing his place in history,” McDougal added. “He led that nation through a tumultuous run-up to the elections, knowing where he was going and being a very steady hand and voice of reason through what was a very turbulent time in the run-up to the election.”
Keller, who also wrote Mandela’s biography, credited his restraint, and his “surplus of discipline.”
“He was the most disciplined politician I have ever seen,” Keller said.
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