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Nelson Mandela's moral legacy

A former Monitor correspondent and longtime Mandela watcher reflects on

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As Nelson Mandela prepares to step down after five years as president, South Africans are beginning to reflect on what makes him so special and what it is about him they will truly miss.

Mr. Mandela, who emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate the end of apartheid with his jailers, leaves a legacy of principled leadership and racial reconciliation.

His critics complain that he has tried to quell white apprehensions at the expense of meeting black aspirations. It remains to be seen whether his successors will be able to redress stark racial inequalities without undermining confidence in one of Africa's most robust economies.

It is almost 10 years since Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the legend, walked out of a prison warder's house after nearly three decades in jail.

I'll never forget that moment. It was a hot summer's day and the surrounding vineyards were shimmering under a clear blue sky. Local and international media thronged the entrance of the prison.

I had wandered unnoticed into the prison grounds, where my slate-blue cotton suit blended in with the uniforms of the South African police.

Time stood still during the hour in which we waited for Mandela, the man who had inspired me deeply with his sacrifice for the ideal of a genuinely democratic South Africa, where white fears and black aspirations would be reconciled.

A delegation of anti-apartheid leaders, including Mr. Mandela's controversial wife at the time, Winnie, had entered the prison by car and headed down the road to the warder's house.

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