Nelson Mandela: The Myth, the Man, 'Madiba'

Imprisoned for 27 years, Nelson Mandela Still Bears Scars of Tragedies

ByABC News
October 22, 2009, 12:20 PM

Feb. 12, 2010— -- As Nelson Mandela was being groomed in 1993 to take power as South Africa's first black president, he toured the Bryntirion, Pretoria, presidential home with his 3-year-old grandson, paying little attention to its grandeur.

"Here was a historical figure going into what had previously been the residence of the ceremonial heads of state of the apartheid government with a 3-year-old child, not being impressed with all of this," said Dave Steward, former chief of staff for President F.W. de Klerk, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela that year.

"The real man was holding the hand of his grandson."

Today, on the 20th anniversary of the freedom fighter's release from Victor Verster prison after nearly three decades of imprisonment, Mandela's essential humanity is what inspires the world.

Those who know Mandela, whose clan nickname is "Madiba," say that the endearing image of him with a beloved grandchild is as powerful as his lofty goals for a multiracial South Africa and world peace.

The 91-year-old Mandela appeared at the opening of South Africa's parliament at the National Assembly in Cape Town. He walked very slowly down a few steps to his place of honor. The gallery erupted in applause and song, chanting Mandela. He sat down smiling, looking healthy for his years.

Thousands of South Africans and political leaders marked the anniversary by paying tribute to the iconic figure's first moments of freedom.Ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was expected to take the same "long walk to freedom" from the Cape Town prison where her husband had been held in his last months of captivity, but did not show up today, because she said it was "too painful."

On this day 20 years ago, she walked hand in hand with Mandela as he took his first steps as a free man in 27 years. This time prominent members of the ANC, the African National Congress Party and some of Mandela's former prison mates and apartheid activists took the journey, greeting journalists and the enthusiastic crowd along the way.

"It was an emotional moment. When we were released, that was exhilaration, happiness but at the same time sadness that we are released, we came to prison together, and we are leaving him behind," said Ahmed Kathrada, an 80-year-old anti-apartheid activist.

Kathrada, who was released four months before Mandela, said, "We knew that once we were released that the day is not too far when he is going to join us."

Current President Jacob Zuma and other leaders are expected to honor the legacy of "Madiba," which is the clan name of Nelson Mandela in a rally at a nearby rugby field today.

The event marks the official opening of this year's parliament, where the theme will be "Celebrate the Legacy of Mandela -- Contribute to Nation Building."

Even amid failing health and swirling rumors that he is on the brink of death, Mandela still assumes a large- than-life presence, one that often makes it hard to see the real man behind the myth.

"I suspect that from the day that he committed to the struggle against apartheid, he meant genuinely to fully dedicate his entire life to that cause," said Bantu Holomisa, a member of the South African Parliament.

"Little did he know the price he would pay," he told "A free South Africa became synonymous with his name, and that was what the public expected of him."

But Mandela has as many earthly passions as political ones: In his prime, he was a notorious lady's man, a boxer and a lover of ballroom dancing. His lust for life mesmerized celebrities, as well as little people.

"What you get is what you see," said Steward, now executive director of the de Klerk Foundation. "He's not putting on an act.

"If he was just walking down the street or on the way to go into the Union Building, he would speak to the gardener and express genuine interest in his life," he said. "This would cut across all racial divides. He had just as much concern for the flight crew of the presidential aircraft as he would for anybody else.

"It was not an affected charm. He is incredibly thoughtful and considerate in his relationships with the humblest of people around him. He is a great reconciler."

Those closest to him said Mandela's humanity sprang from a sense of duty that was cultivated by his noble African roots, as well as a life beset with hardship, loneliness and betrayal.

As a martyr for democratic South Africa, he spent 27 years in prison, cut off from his four children.