Duke Professor Emeritus Remembers Nelson Mandela

Dec 6, 2013

North Carolinians are joining leaders around the world in remembering Nelson Mandela's legacy. The former South African president died Thursday in Johannesburg. He was 95. Those who watched Mandela emerge from decades of captivity to national leader say he brought a charm  not found in most political figures.

James A. Joseph was U.S. Ambassador to South Africa during Nelson Mandela's presidency.
Credit Duke University

James Joseph is professor emeritus at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy. He served as U.S. ambassador to South Africa during much of Mandela's presidency.

"He was imprisoned while we were becoming seduced by the notion that experience trumps wisdom and judgment," Joseph says. "But here he was... the leader of a country where heads of state and royalty from around the world beat a path to his door seeking his advice and counsel on the great issues of the day."

He says Mandela took to leadership like a political pro.

"He was a master of the photo-op... the soundbite... the seductive smile... the intimate handshake and the disarming charm. But where he differed from many politicians is that this was all vary natural to him. It was not Mandela playing a role. It was simply Mandela being himself," he recalls.

Mourners are celebrating the achievements of the iconic former South African president. The country's current leader Jacob

Zuma announced Mandela's death.