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A Friend Remembers Nelson Mandela

Padraig O’Malley spent more than 10 years tracking South Africa’s transition to democracy, working with whites and blacks, including the man who would eventually become the nation’s first democratically-elected president: Nelson Mandela.

Ahead of Mandela’s funeral on Sunday, O’Malley joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to a reflect on a man who brought people of very different perspectives together.

O’Malley also does this kind of work, trying to bring Sunnis and Shiites together in Iraq, and Protestants and Catholics together in Northern Ireland, though his organization, The Forum for Cities in Transition.

Interview Highlights: Padraig O’Malley

On Mandela’s approach to crossing racial boundaries

“He brought people together from the very moment he left jail and became a free man, because he put the entire emphasis of his negotiations with the Afrikaners and the white people on alleviating their fears. He instructed his negotiators to identify their fears, and to put together a package that would address each of the fears. So he was always conscious that if there was to be a successful South Africa, you had to have blacks and whites working together.”

On the power of Mandela’s presence

“I don’t think there is any inspirational figure today that in any way measures up to the unique qualities that Mandela had. … You know when somebody has charisma. They walk into a room and the shape of the room changes before they open their mouths. Mandela was that.”


  • Padraig O’Malley, professor of peace and reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

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