Freed at last, Mandela embraced reconciliation to save his nation. As South Africa's first black President, he set an example of unity and hope

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    The election campaign saw more bloodshed but also more reconciliation. In a televised debate with De Klerk, Mandela worried that he had been too hard on the man who would be his partner in the government of national unity and urged his audience not to be distracted from the fact "that we are a shining example to the entire world of people drawn from different racial groups who have a common loyalty, a common love, to their common country. Sir, you are one of those I rely upon to face these problems together." Mandela then reached over and took De Klerk's hand. "I am proud to hold your hand for us to go forward," he said.

    Two weeks later--on a day Tutu described as "like falling in love"--Mandela, then 75, cast the first vote of his life. On May 10 he was inaugurated as South Africa's first black President and, borrowing a phrase from Tutu, declared South Africa to be a "rainbow nation" and his election "a common victory for justice, for peace, for human dignity." He continued, "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another. Let freedom reign."

    Outside jail, Mandela's star only rose further. His near canonization came to be an annoyance for other ANC and African leaders, who were henceforth forever in his shadow. Mandela himself agreed that the veneration went too far. After his retirement from public office in 1999, he would tell visitors he was "just a man." He had made mistakes, he said, not least failing to spot the growth of HIV/AIDS, an error he tried to repair with fundraising and campaigning into his late 80s. He had also put cause before family, something that cost him two marriages. (He married his third wife Graça Machel, widow of a former Mozambican President, on his 80th birthday in 1998.) "My family paid a terrible price, perhaps too dear a price, for my commitment," he said. "My commitment to my people ... was at the expense of the people I knew best and loved most." It was no surprise that Mandela devoted his last years to spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

    But Mandela enjoyed the spotlight too. In retirement, he continued to meet with global figures, hosting giants such as U.S. President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama but also making time for the Spice Girls. According to legend, when President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe complained to Mandela that he, Mugabe, had been the star of Africa before Mandela emerged from prison, Mandela teased Mugabe that the star had been replaced by the sun. He used the limelight too, shining it not only on HIV/AIDS but also on a legion of other causes: human rights, development and, as head of a group of venerable statesmen called the Elders, crisis diplomacy. And he remained a thorn in the side of the powerful, criticizing them if he felt they abused their position, as when he spoke out against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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