Bill Clinton asked Mandela, “Tell me the truth. When you were leaving prison after twenty-seven years and walking down that road to freedom, did you hate them all over again?”
And he said, “Absolutely, I did because they’d imprisoned me for so long. I was abused. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. I lost my marriage and the best years of my life. I was angry and afraid because I had not been free in so long. But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.”
Just as Nelson Mandela grew to understand the inhumanity of apartheid, he also realized what so many people failed to comprehend: the oppressor is also a prisoner of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, and the same chains bound all South Africans, no matter their skin color. Mandela first freed himself, then his fellow citizens as he took them along on his long walk to freedom.
From the book Long Road to Freedom by Bill Clinton
In letting it go, Mandela kept his mind and his heart. He would need both to lead his country because as he writes here, “To make peace with an enemy, one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one’s partner.”
Bill Clinton says, “A friend of mine once saw Mandela in a South African airport and told me this story. The president had noticed a lad who was walking by with her daughter, a beautiful five-or six-year-old girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Mandela walked up to the little girl, leaned down and shook her hand. He said, “Do you know who I am?” And the child smiled and said, “Yes, you are President Mandela.” Mandela said, “Yes, I am your president. And if you work very hard in school, learn a lot and be nice to everybody, you too could grow up to be President of South Africa.”