By Thuso Khumalo JOHANNESBURG, Dec. 11 (Xinhua) -- As the world continues to mourn late former South African president Nelson Mandela, those who were close to the world icon have described him as a rare and unique leader.
Mandela died of a recurring lung infection on Dec. 5 at the age of 95.
Ismail Kathrada, a man charged with treason by the apartheid government and later imprisoned together with Mandela at the Robben Island, said that in Mandela he found all characteristics that made him unique from all others.
"He was a very compassionate person, very courageous person, very tolerant, someone who is also able to laugh at himself," Kathrada told Xinhua in an interview at his Johannesburg home.
He said Mandela's love for children made him a president with a difference. "Mandela was a very caring person and his greatest love was children. When he became president he devoted, I think, a third of his salary towards a children's fund," said Kathrada. During their imprisonment at Robben Island, Kathrada was amazed by Mandela's compassion for others which he demonstrated by prioritizing the welfare of other prisoners at the expense of his own.
"All the time, his care was for fellow prisoners. He had enough problems. His family members, including his wife, were constantly detained, released, banished, but his first concern was for fellow prisoners. "He refused any preferential treatment, preferring instead to be treated like all other prisoners."
Mandela's ability to build solid harmony and unity amongst conflicting races and tribes within South Africa earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Kathrada said, "Amongst the first things he did, he invited to tea wives and the widows of the apartheid presidents and prime ministers and they all came. "When you look back it appears small, but it was very important because these were the wives of the immediate oppressors. His whole aim was to reach out with a message of forgiveness and reconstruction."
Despite all the persecution he suffered in the hands of the apartheid regime, Mandela never sacrificed his principles of fairness and determination to free his people.
"Twenty years imprisonment did not in any way change his commitment to struggle. He emerged from jail as a stronger person full of confidence. He never thought of himself as above people," said Kathrada.
Kathrada said Mandela made it clear that the welfare of South Africans was more important than his position as the president. "In the five years of his rule (as president), his aim was to consolidate our democracy at the same time to reach out to former oppressors to assure them that there is nothing to fear."
Kathrada said South Africa is what it is today thanks to Mandela's enormous contribution.
To date both blacks and whites share the same facilities, an act which was illegal in the past era. The blacks who were only limited to Bantu education during the apartheid era, now study any qualification of their choice till university level, Kathrada said. "The most important gain is that we have gained our dignity as human beings. Until then, we were lesser human beings. They had reduced all human beings who are not white, to the level of animals. "
Grand Mandela memorial service held in South Africa
JOHANNESBURG, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- The South African government on Tuesday held the national memorial service here, honoring the late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Braving the pouring rain and chilly wind, some 100,000 mouring people gathered at the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium in Johannesburg.Full Story
South Africa takes pride in Mandela moment: Zuma
JOHANNESBURG, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- South African President Jacob Zuma said on Tuesday Nelson Mandela is one man of a kind and "there is no one quite like him."Full Story
World leaders gather to remember icon Mandela
JOHANNESBURG, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- World leaders and tens of thousands of South Africans on Tuesday gathered in rain at a stadium in South Africa's Johannesburg to honor former South African President Nelson Mandela.Full Story