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Here’s what Nelson Mandela really thought of world leaders

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
The man of the people spoke bluntly about his fellow heads of state.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

World leaders have been sending a flood of tributes and tweets about their love and respect for Nelson Mandela. But what did the great statesman think of them? A little-noticed 2002 video of Mandela captures how he really felt. Margaret Thatcher was “warm and motherly,” he said, but George W. Bush was very arrogant.

The almost one-hour long clip shows Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, signing a series of his artworks to be sold for charity by London’s Belgravia Gallery.

He wears a neck brace throughout for comfort and is flanked by his staff and gallery personnel. It’s a candid talk that airs his opinions about everything from politicians to current affairs and shows off his characteristic sense of humor. A recap:

Nelson Mandela had a deep respect for Princess Diana for the work she was doing to change attitudes when it came to HIV/AIDS. Says Mandela in the video: “People said if a British princess can actually shake hands with AIDS sufferers and sit down, then there is nothing in this superstition.”

The two world figures also showed the same compassion to AIDS sufferers. Early in the video, Mandela recounts a story of the stigma shown by a group of villagers in South Africa, who fed three Aids orphans whose parents had died of HIV/AIDS by throwing food into their hut: “So I then decided to demonstrate to them that you can actually go in and touch the children and sit there. So I sat there for about 25 minutes and I came out holding the poor/two children.”

Many have called Prince Charles a cad, but Nelson Mandela thought the royal was a “fine chap.” In the video, he talks about his appreciation of Charles’ taste in architecture and recounts an episode in Brixton when they were mobbed by a crowd of admirers.

Of his mother, Mandela called her “remarkable” and was impressed by the fact that the Queen of England served tea herself. “In public she’s very stiff, but when I stayed in Buckingham palace, she was a totally different person.”

Margaret Thatcher once regarded Nelson Mandela as a common terrorist, but she gets no unkind word from the former president. Instead, Mandela calls her “warm and motherly” and cleverly recounts an exchange he had with a prominent English politician to make a point about why she was called the Iron Lady: “When I saw Margaret Thatcher for the first time, we were supposed to have a meeting for one hour. Our meeting lasted for three hours and I had to offer an excuse. I then went to Neil Kinnock in parliament, and he was very excited. He says, ‘How is the Iron Lady?” I said, ‘She was warm and motherly.’ He says, ‘Warm and motherly? You must have met another lady.’”

Nelson Mandela had a fond place in his heart for politicians who supported the ANC’s fight during the apartheid years. Former French president Francois Mitterrand was one of them. “That one (Mitterrand) was good because we (ANC underground movement) used France as the gateway to Europe, because we were deliberate, because Mitterrand was a man who has fought the Germans, went underground and remained in his country and fought. And we reckoned that he understood our position (as the ANC) very well and we went there.”

He holds Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif in equally high regard for not bending to political pressure when the Brits questioned his decision to host Mandela when he was released from prison: “…The (British) High Commissioner went to Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister and gave a strong protest. They ignored him and said, ‘This is Pakistan, we are going to give him the treatment that he deserves,’ so he (the British High Commissioner) left in protest.”

Mandela was among the many international leaders who protested the war on Iraq. He publicly condemned the unilateral decision and is especially scathing about the two leaders at the forefront of the invasion: “The Security Council is free to go out and take unilateral action. They are undermining what Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed upon in 1941 because the idea of the United Nations comes from those two… (Tony Blair) really is humiliating Britain because Bush is really an arrogant chap.”

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