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President Nelson Mandela

Some personal refiections


lan Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development, and Director, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford*

President Mandela stands in the pantheon of political leaders.


He was blessed with an extraordinary ability, intelligence and
memory, but it was his character that sets him head and
shoulders above other leaders. Modesty, patience and a genuine
interest in ordinary people, honed from his 27 years in prison,
made him unique, as did his relentless honesty and upholding
of principles of human rights. It was these ideals that placed him
in prison in the first place, after he refused to bow to apartheid.
Having met Nelson Mandela soon after his release from prison on
his first visit to Paris, when I was at the OEGD from 1988 to 1992, it
was a dream come true to be invited to join his government as the
GEO of the state-owned Development Bank of Southern Africa,
which became the most significant provider of municipal and

A towering personality with a beautiful mind,


who endured too much
infrastructure finance in southern Africa, It was a privilege to be
intimately involved in discussions on economic policy and to
accompany President Mandela on numerous state visits, including
to France and the UK, and to engage on his behalf in other
activities, such as taking the financial lead for South Africa's
Oljrmpic bid. South Africa did not win the bid, but as with the
decisions to host the rugby and football World Gups, Mandela
understood that beyond the essential economic benefits, the
widely shared love of sport could heal the wounds of a racially
divided nation seeking to overcome the legacy of apartheid.
President Mandela was an extraordinary listener, with the razorsharp mind of a top trial lawyer delving into every detail of an
issue until he had mastered it. Once this was the case, he had a
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remarkable ability to retain facts and conversations. So, for


example, in a conversation he was keen to drill down with me
into the significance of savings and interest rates and then years
later repeated the arguments in response to a media question.
Under President Mandela's leadership, the ruling African National
Gongress party transformed its economic policies to allow for the
full integration of South Africa into the global economy and the
establishment of sustainable macroeconomic policy. The economy
reduced protectionism that had been reinforced by apartheid
sanctions and high tariff walls and became the driver of economic
growth in the southern Africa region, as well as a leading member
of the reinvigorated African growth strategy and a key member of
the BRIGS,
While having a finely tuned understanding of politics and an
encyclopaedic knowledge, Mandela was a great leveller, making a
point of calling all presidents (and even royalty) by their first
names, and invariably flummoxing security by heading into the
kitchens to thank the chefs or into the offices to thank a secretary.
His charisma and natural ability meant that everyone-including
Queen Elizabeth and Presidents Bill Glinton and Jacques Ghiracfelt humbled in his presence.
He was a towering personality with a beautiful mind, who
endured too much. The world badly needs great leaders. The
tragedy of Mandela's passing is that it underlines the rarity of his
extraordinary combination of courage, commitment, charisma,
intelligence, self-sacrifice and, rarest of all, wisdom.
Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, was born in Mvezo, South
Africa, on 18 July 1918, and died in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 5 December 2013,
*ian Goldin worked at the OECD from 1988 to 1992

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