Remembering Nelson Mandela

Professor Gould with Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1992

I have always felt a close connection to Nelson Mandela, his aspirations, ideals, and principles. I vividly recall his imprisonment in the 1960’s and the shocked reaction of South Africans, black and white, when I first visited South Africa in 1977 and brought his writings with me. All of his work was banned and the very mention of his name was prohibited. When I arrived in Cape Town, I vividly recall looking across the bay at Robben Island, where he was imprisoned and discussing him with local civil rights proponents. But the closest I came to him then was a meeting with Winnie Mandela in the “wild west” rural town in the Orange Free State, where she was placed by the government.


Professor Gould with Winnie Mandela on his first trip to South Africa in 1977

I had the privilege of attending the Mandela inauguration in May 1994 with other members of the Clinton administration. But I first met President Mandela before his inauguration due to the connection developed between Stanford, myself, and Cyril Ramaphosa, who was at the time a trade union leader in South Africa and is now the deputy president of the African National Congress. Ramaphosa visited Stanford in 1982 and lunched with us at my home. We stayed in touch, and it was Ramaphosa who arranged for me to not only observe the constitutional negotiations but also to attend the first African National Congress (“ANC”) conference in 1991 in what was about to become the post-apartheid era, and this is when my initial meeting with Mr. Mandela took place—only a year after his release from prison. At that point we had the briefest exchange with others present, but I recall the warmth in his greeting and welcome to me and others, his charismatic and relaxed manner.

Photo from Professor Gould’s trip to South Africa in 1977

The second meeting was more substantive, in August 1992, where I had about 10 minutes with him alone—again a privilege arranged directly by Ramaphosa. Somehow his initial greeting to me sticks out in my mind more than our subsequent conversation that day about the changes taking place in South Africa and the difficulties of transition: “How do you call yourself?” he said to me when we first met, just as one would say literally in French. I have never been greeted by anyone, before or since, with these words—words that struck me as so courtly, expressed by this older gentleman (he was then younger than I am now) with whom I was made to feel at ease.

Mr. Mandela spoke that day of the perils that he and the ANC confronted in transition, the destabilizing violence in Kwazulu, which appeared to be government-inspired and that appeared to be designed to disrupt the hoped for orderly transition. When the meeting concluded we posed for a photo, which remains prominently on my office wall.Subsequently, Mr. Ramaphosa came again to Stanford and spoke here at the law school. He then arranged for the soon-to-be President Mandela to speak at the law school, a date that was tragically cancelled five or six days before the event was to take place because of a recurrence of the Kwazulu difficulties.

Photo from Bill Gould's trip to South Africa in 1977
Photo from Professor Gould’s trip to South Africa in 1977

A decade ago, I was able to return to South Africa on my 10th visit there and to meet so many who were in government and other official positions, who had been literally on the run at the time of my first visit to that great country in 1977. What I remember above all else in Pretoria at the inauguration which I attended, is the note of unity, reconciliation, and resolve that President Mandela struck that day—the most memorable and remarkable aspects of all this being that they came in the wake of the horrors of apartheid, which exceed, or at least rival, even those of the United States.

My meetings and contact with President Mandela and my reading about him these many years, convince me that his life constitutes the greatest inspiration for all mankind of which I am aware in my lifetime. Like the world, I mourn his death this day.

9 Responses to Remembering Nelson Mandela
  1. Thanka, Bill, for your beautiful remembrance.


  2. A very thoughtful article by Professor Gould. Madiba’s death reminds me of the struggle the University went through in the 1980s on corporate divestiture, in support of the anti-apartheid movement across the country. Madiba’s death also reminded me of Hoover Institution giving recognition to conservative Blacks in South Africa at time, such as M. Gatsha Buthelezi, Chief of the Inkatha Freedom Party. Chief Buthelezi was viewed by White Afrikaners, and Hoover Institution, as being as more compatible with their interests than Madiba.

    Thanks, again, Professor Gould.


  3. Wonderfully written, Professor Gould. Thank you for sharing your history with and impressions of this global peacemaker.


  4. Hi William,

    Thanks for writing this and it is a very beautiful remembrance! A great figure indeed for many and thank you again for sharing this lovely information.

    Have a blessed weekend.


  5. Beautifully said, Bill.


  6. Professor,

    Lovely information and i have enjoyed my time reading this informative post.

    Thank you


  7. I am deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Mandela. His was a life filled with purpose and hope; hope for himself, his country and the world. He inspired others to reach for what appeared to be impossible and moved them to break through the barriers that held them hostage mentally, physically, socially and economically. He made us realize, we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colors. What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge. He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free.


  8. Thanks Bill. Your remarks are all the more meaningful because I know you well.


  9. Bill,

    Your words are always right-on. A truly lovely tribute to Nelson Mandela.

    My best,
    Chris Langenfeld


Leave a Comment