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Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 08:35 GMT

Is Nelson Mandela the greatest leader the world has known?

In the week that President Mandela finally leaves the political stage, it is time to reflect on what his legacy might be.

Background ¦ Vote ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

The Vote:
Is Nelson Mandela the greatest leader the world has known?
Yes No

The Background:

For the past half century the shadow of Mandela has towered over South Africa and, indeed, the world.

Nelson Mandela
From his early days as an inspirational liberation fighter, through the long, dark years in prison, to his final emergence as president of a multi-party nation, his personal struggle has been inextricably linked to that of his fellow black South Africans.

Images of Mandela's life are etched on our minds. The young freedom fighter who led a life underground as the 'black pimpernel'. The defiant, handsome, lawyer incarcerated after the Rivonia treason trial.

The patient prisoner on Robben Island, stoically smashing stones in a quarry. Waiting, waiting - for years and years. Watching as South Africa's blacks endured decades of brutal discrimination.

And then the glimmer of hope. As former president FW de Klerk pulled down the curtain on apartheid, the doors of Mandela's prison sprang open and he walked free.

Was that his greatest moment - or were there even greater victories ahead? As ANC exiles returned the liberation movement became the party of power. Was he the right choice of president? Has he run the country well? Was he an effective leader or simply a charismatic figurehead? What do you think?

Background ¦ Vote ¦ Your reaction ¦ Have your say

Your Reaction:

Mandela is truly the greatest leader for this century because of the heroic circumstances he went through before, during and after his being elected as president. However, history has also witnessed some other great leaders who operated within their own period.
Augustine Okekaro, USA

To lead a country like South Africa it needs a good leader so to say. Mandela qualifies to be one of the best leaders in the World. Remember the torture he received for 27 years, the isolation. Still he stretched his hands to his adversaries and advocated reconciliation. After Jesus Christ, followed Mandela, no question about this.
John Banzi, Tanzania

Mandela was born to be a royal of his tribe but chose modern society. To prove that he had chosen right his destiny was to liberate all tribes in South Africa, also white. He has charisma that has helped him to succeed.
Mika Nurmi, Finland

The 1994 presidential inauguration ceremony of Nelson Mandela represented one of the most powerful images of black progress ever. The television pictures showed how former president De Klerk and his commanders of the police and military were forced by the protocol of the ceremony to shake the hand of their new commander-in-chief. This symbolised a precedent for black empowerment; Mandela's former gaolers (and black South Africa's enduring source of oppression) had to literally grin and bear this legitimate transition of power. To his eternal credit, Mandela received his former tormentors in the most dignified manner. Consequently, this event, and the processes that brought it about, shows that struggles for equality and justice should never cease. Moreover, Mandela represents a kind of respect and dignity that ALL people should strive for. Everything else will follow from that. For black people in particular, it is vital to keep such positive anecdotes of our role models alive in order to inspire the generations to follow.
Steve Down, UK

Mandela is perhaps the most respected world leader today, and could be for all modern time if the legends that history is so famous for making were placed side by side with him. I hope there will more Mandelas into the next century for all lands on earth. PEACE.
Epie, USA

Indeed, Mandela is the greatest leader for Africa. He struggles for freedom and liberty. He struggles for justice as Martin Luther King. So we can say that if black men are wrong, justice is a lie. But we are determined in Africa to follow his fight for freedom, justice, independence and to work and fight until justice runs down like water in the whole continent of Africa. He is a good teacher of forgiveness. He was in fond of his people and encourage his people to fight for freedom and not for vengeance. We ask him to teach us how to love our enemies. Longue vie _andela. Vive l'Afrique lib_e.
Manuboby Emmanuel , Italy

If there is a man with supernormal penitence Mr Mandela must be. He is a saviour of the peoples of Africa and the world in general at the most needful hour. His leadership example will always stand and never cease. He has registered a history that will always inspire me and you to fight for the noble cause, regardless of the circumstances in place. Long live Mr Mandela long live Africa and long live Uganda.
Amos mzeei, Uganda

As to whether Mandela is a "Great Man" or not is a moot point. We must realise that heaping the title of "Great Man" on any ruler has far more socio-historical ramifications beyond the rhetorical glamour the phrase contains. If Mandela is a great man, he is so because in a continent woefully dying of the "the Great Man's qualities and foresight", less than proper candidates can, by default, enter the pantheon of Great Men.
Sankara S. Kamara, USA

Undoubtedly, Nelson Mandela is the century's greatest leader. Of course it would be unreasonable for any prudent person to expect him to wipe out the hybrids of White racism elsewhere and in South Africa for this matter. The only shortcoming of Mandela was his lack of courage and will to work to end the ongoing enslavement and genocide committed in Sudan by the Arabs against the African population in the name of Allah, the Mohammedan god. It is hoped that his successor, Thabo Mbeki will expeditiously address and end the nefarious successive Arab regimes policies against the African civilians in Sudan. Should it mean independence for the African part of Sudan (something which is preferable), why not?
Isaac L. Loding, USA

Mr. Rohilala, Nelson Mandela is no doubt the greatest leader the world has ever known. Mr. Nelson Mandela is not a saint, neither is he immortal, he has many flaws and imperfections like everyone else. However, Mr. Mandela, throughout his presidency, was able to overlook the past of the ghostly evil days of Apartheid and embrace his tormentors, the white South African minority. Despite the power afforded to him as President, he never abused his authority by declaring and violence or retaliation of any kind against the white South Africans. Mr. Mandela has also played an important role in unifying and promoting peace outside South Africa. As an individual and a symbol of those who have suffered under the hands of an oppressing government, Mr. Mandela has been a great example of showing humility. He is an example to leaders all over the world and to all the people in the world who were once denied their human rights. Retaliation is not the key to progress, reconciliation is what will allow life to continue. Because of Mr. Mandela's exemplary life, everyone will know that reconciliation does work.
Kay LeKoma, USA

I think Mandela's name has been written with indelible ink in the history of the world. What makes him stand out among many is his forgiven and reconciliatory spirit he exhibited when when he was released from prison. Many people can not do that in the light of what was don to him. Again, his decision not to cling on to power sets him out as a many who thinks of his country more than himself. I hope other African leaders will learn from him and give way to others when the time comes for them to move away from the political scene. Now that he has retired, I think the OAU and UN can use him to for to resolve the numerous conflicts in Africa.
Augustine Boahen, Canada

Mandela is certainly one of the greatest in this century. Some of the comments here talk about crime and I bet you it is one of the legacies of apartheid. What did the white people think when they offered poor quality education or none at all to the black people? Again what did they think when they deprived those young black kids the opportunity to learn a vocation or trade? Desperation leads to crime. Mandela could not reverse a system of poverty rained on the black people for over half a century in just five short years. Shame unto you all white people crying about crime. No crime will ever surpass yours that was committed against black people in the name of apartheid.
Kwame Brobbey, USA

His record speaks for itself.
Bukari Ayidachow, Ghana

The fact that Mandela was able to juggle so many special interest groups well and avoid civil war is enough to make him a great world leader in my eyes. On top of that, Mandela has been one of those exceptionally rare individuals who are actually capable of forgiving massive wrongs inflicted upon him. One must not underestimate the portion of his life that was taken away from him by unnecessarily being imprisoned.
Jake Layman, USA

Of course he isn't!! People just look upon him kindly because he spent so many years in prison. There have been many people more worthy of that title than him.
A Duncan, UK

Thank you President Mandela for your wonderful dedication and your biblical wisdom. I regard you as the greatest leader of all times. It is nice to see a few people dispel some ignorant bigotry on the net, but it is okay, these are the things you have risen above and continue to do masterfully. Even though I am tempted to criticise a few articles written here on this subject about you, but I will refrain from doing that and allow the flow of ideas no matter how stupid some of them turns out.
Cec Omo, Canada

He is really a wonderful person. May God be with him.
Sefanit, Ethiopia

Greatest because he fought for humanity, for freedom and justice, he is political pragmatist, a man with dignity, sense of mission, and love. Of course he is a man he has his limitations but he is a very wise man. He has shown this by not running for second term in office as previous African leaders did. rather he has the chance to guide the new government from the back seen. this is crucial for the future political stability of South Africa.
Abu Bah, USA/Sierra Leone

l should say Mandela is one of the few strong people the world will ever see again.
Jimmy Swaka, Canada

He stands shoulder high among the world leaders now or in the past. His strength lies not in warfare strategy nor great conquest of other human races but in longsuffering, tenacity, integrity and graciousness. In incarceration and subjugation he was unbroken even for once. In power, he was humble and gracious almost to a fault. At the age of 80 years he is as committed and courageous as he was in his 20s. Amanda Mandela!
Samson Olaniyan, Nigeria (now in UK)

Of course not! Soon after he was freed he promptly forgot his debt to India and other countries that helped him so much. South Africa under him has pretended as if Gandhi never lived those long years in South Africa and fought for the rights of ALL peoples. Gandhi is a much greater leader (no comparison), as is Nehru.
M. Joshi, USA

There is no doubt that Mandela is a great leader, but his 'freedom fighting' is terrorism in the eyes of others. Will we see the leaders of the IRA in the same light in twenty years? Surely Mahatma Ghandi is the greatest leader of all time. He led a nation to independence against a racist regime without resorting to violence.
Steve, UK

Nelson Mandela became a hero in the eyes of the world while in prison. He was there because he was a proponent of violence. Working out of neighboring countries, the ANC planned and executed violence against South African society, white and black. Nelson Mandela was no Ghandi. He did, however, wear the mantle of respectability the world gratuitously gave him. In all, he is no hero.
Joe Biernacki, USA

I feel that he has done a lot for his country as an African. I in person am very proud of him and recommend him as the greatest, for what he was able to do for his country. Whoever dose not vote for him must be jealous.
Galo Touray, The Gambia

As some others mentioned, Mr Mandela might not be the greatest leader mankind has ever known, it would be forgetting that great leaders have existed in history: Julius Ceasar, the first emperor of China, Alexander the Great and so on, but he certainly is one of the greatest in recent history. The greatness of his leadership has been to pull out South Africa from the domination of the Colonialist white power AND bring real democracy for good (I hope) in his country. All that in a relative peaceful way, avoiding the bloodbath that could have been expected and without throwing his country in total anarchy or corruption. That's a lesson other countries of the third world in general and Africa specifically should learn lessons from.
Pr. Yanick Vaillancourt, Qu_c

Had he died in prison he would have died with respect. By being free, he has diluted his ideas and opinions and created a 'Free' South Africa for crime and disorder. Apartheid sucks, but so does 'freedom'.
M Khan, UK M Khan

In world where the greatest leaders are those who have fought and won costly wars, Mandela stands out as one who has defied ordinary wisdom and won the ultimate war of peace-making. If he is not the greatest leader of all time, then I don't know who is.
Don M'Mairura, USA

Kennedy was a great leader, so were Washington, Abe Lincoln, De Gaul, and Churchill, but they are all good time leaders. Their personal life was not put at stake by their own government, to have done what they have. Their leadership lasted a short time. Mandela was in for life. He is out willingly. Unlike those who fight "for their country" for years and after they win their freedom they have to be sent out with a volley of fire, he stepped down. That is a mark of a great leader, nothing personal, just devoting one's life for the benefit of one's country.
Helmi Kassim, USA

I have read the other comments and I am amazed at how ignorant people can be. I saw someone saying Mandela is the only one willing to give up his power to hand over to someone else ... What about FW de Klerk who handed over to Mandela!!?? Does that not count because human right privileges only apply to blacks? And what about the 90% whites who gave him a mandate to do so, and asked FW to reform the country from apartheid? Yes there was crime under apartheid ... BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHY WE VOTED FOR THE END OF THAT SYSTEM!!! Don't you get it? Since when do two wrongs make a right? Some of you seem to think that because there were crimes in the past, that makes the present crime justifiable. And I see some people saying white wealthy people don't want to help blacks ... what rubbish! You dont live there ... how can you tell? There are hundreds of local projects right now that specifically gives preference to blacks to lift them from their feet. 'Black empowerment groups' funded by white businesses. Black contracting companies given preference by so-called 'white companies'. White contractors working in black communities to uplift their quality of life. It is amazing how whites in SA get the blame for EVERYTHING and the Black Elite just cannot do wrong. I strongly urge and challenge everybody who's never been to SA, to go there and look at the facts, before raising your un-enlighted opinions: the facts are: whites and blacks in SA live in tolerance, and both groups are getting poorer everyday, while the Black Elite is getting wealthier everyday. Thank you mister Mandela. Thank you also for allowing criminals and convicts in SA vote in the past election, whilst actively preventing our cricket boys representing our country in England from voting. Thank you for releasing some more rapists and murderers into our society on your birthday, contributing to the crime figures. We salute you Comrade!
Kobus Jacobs, USA

Tell me a president who gave up re-election when he know he can win.
Sileshi Mengiste, USA

When I hear people talk about the South African economy and the lot of blacks and use this to adjudge Mandela's effectiveness(or ineffectivenes), I think it stems from a lack of understanding of the facts. The economy of South Africa is predominantly in the control of whites. You cannot simply legislate wealth from one group to another. Enforcing this would lead to economic collapse in any capitalist system. The white elite have to be willing tools in the dispersal of wealth, and they have not been thus far.
Mandela is probably the greatest leader of this century. The greatest of virtues is to forgive those that wronged you. Not Even Churchill could do that. But of all time? Jesus of course.
Baetus Inikori, Nigeria

This man is with no doubt the greatest leader of our time and will go down as a great freedom fighter, statesman, lawyer, etc. We can only wish him the very best in his new role as a retired senior citizen.
David, Sweden

Mandela is the greatest. You may say his just an icon of immense proportions, but those proportions don't fall short of that of the skeletons in the western world's closet. If you say that he did not do anything for his people, do you mean that they are not all on a boat cruise in the Caribbean? Mandela gave his people something to believe in. It's mind over matter, and when your tummy is empty, a full mind can go a long way. We certainly don't want to end up rich, bloated and silly. Because then we will ask things like: Is Clinton the greatest leader the world has ever known?
Gert van Tonder, South African, Residing in Japan

I don't think we should call him the greatest leader the world has known. He was just a good states man.
Samson Kassaye, USA

I would place Mandela a close second to FDR of the USA. Roosevelt created more global and local institutions and programs that have improved the lives of people across the world, not just Americans. Mandela has earned moral authority.
Edet O. Edet, USA-Nigeria

Need we ask? Undoubtedly, he is the world's greatest leader. Can we imagine what carnage there might have been in southern Africa had he set out to avenge the decades of unjust rule in his country or the personal deprivation he suffered?
James Bowok, Canada

Someone earlier said 'don't forget why he went to jail', and someone else said 'what about crime in South Africa? Hopefully I will meet these people - sadly though you bump into others like them all the time. Mandela was classed as a terrorist by people who were subhuman terrorists themselves. The amount of double-think that some (bleating) South African whites are capable of is astonishing. On crime - everyone knows there is plenty of crime in South Africa today. But during apartheid there was plenty more - mostly executed by the government and the security forces. What did you have to say about crime then? Not much I suspect - too busy getting a free ride. Well it's over.
Marilyn, UK

A few years ago, I had big hopes for our new president. Not because he had some divine ability to lead, but simply because of what he represented. Unfortunately, his continued association with dictatorships (Libya and Cuba) has soured the experience for me completely. Instead of maintaining friendly relations with the objective of changing the minds of these regimes, he openly declared his affection and love for them, even bestowing them with medals and accolades. For a man that is supposed to represent freedom for the oppressed, his actions were in fact a slap in the face for all those oppressed by Gadaffi and his co-horts. This and the soaring crime and corruption problems add up to a job NOT well done. I am sorry, but the issue of human rights is not a privilege reserved for black South Africans only.
John Gerard, South Africa

Few people would be able to sacrifice the term of their natural lives for the benefit of others. He is the only one so far. A display of leadership, humility and martyrdom.
Russell Losper, South Africa - Domociled in UK

In this day and age, fame is taken as a measure of greatness. Mandela is more idolised than Thatcher, Roosevelt, Churchill, Neru, etc, but in terms of integrity and greatness he falls short. Ironically, his idolisation falls short of that other pretender - Diana.
Lydiard, South Africa

Mandela's singular achievement was to utilise the emotions of people in the country and the whole world as a brake on the revolutionary process in South Africa. He became a willing tool for the imperialists to delay the sharpening contradiction between labour and capital. All of his achievements have been to benefit the capitalists, whether white or black. Meanwhile, the teeming masses in their millions continue to suffer even more under the facade of a majority government. The majority may have elected the ANC and Mandela/Mbeki, but the true victors are the rich. Soon enough, the harsh realities will dawn.
J Khumalo, South Africa

Nelson Mandela will be remembered as one of the world's great leaders. His tolerant and forgiving approach to reconciliation has been an inspiration. The fact that he had to resort to violent means to try to win freedom for his people against a fascist regime does not invalidate his greatness. Also, many of the problems faced by South Africa today are a legacy of the sick apartheid regime. Mandela should not have been expected to cure all his country's ills in a few short years.
Phil Bailey, USA

By publicly forgiving his former oppressors, Mr Mandela set an example of what reconciliation should be. This is the example that should me emulated by all leaders especially in countries where tribal and/or racial conflicts still exist. When President Mandela willingly gave up his leadership of ANC and then presidency it set an example that should be followed by leaders who tend to cling to power, which eventually leads to civil strife.
J.Mulumba, Wales

What has he done about fighting crime in SA? Maybe the government should concentrate less on the human rights of criminals, but also focus on the SA public.
Carmen Pheiffer, South Africa

I think that he his a role model and that everyone should have the same attitude as Nelson Mandela.
Aashish Nathwani, England

Nelson Mandela was a great Idol not a leader. His people are still living in the same poverty, very little has changed! To make a man great takes more than just being imprisoned for terrorist activities, it also takes the quality of vision and building rather than breaking down.
Gretl Coudrille, UK

I don't think Nelson Mandela gives a damn whether he is the greatest leader or not and neither should we be putting great people such as himself in a pecking order. People who make comments about great leaders have little idea of the suffering and punishment people have to go through. People would lose heart after a few years in prison - forget a quarter of a century of time! ...and then he became a leader. I think he'll be happy to retire, from the high intensity of pressure in today's world.
Sattar, UK

He is simply the greatest.
Ronald A Mukala, Zambia

While Nelson Mandela might not be the greatest leader of all time, he exhibits some rare attributes such as doggedness for a just cause, self-denial, vision and forgiveness based on justice. He is also an excellent team player and is willing to tackle problems frontally. These qualities have endeared him to many worldwide but to the few who are unhappy with him, my advice is that they have a lot to learn from "Madiba". Wishing the great leader a well deserved retirement.
Aruede Efosa, Nigeria

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