Tonawanda News


December 8, 2013

DUVALL: Remembering Mandela, the practical humanist


Tonawanda News — While it took unimaginable grace to forgive and at many points partner with elements of the regime he fought to upend, it was his work mediating the deep rifts among South Africa’s black factions that required real political skill. It’s easy to forget 20 years later, the popular prediction at the time was once Mandela succeeded — and even then it seemed as though he would persevere — there was little faith he could establish a legitimate political apparatus capable of guiding the country to democracy.

Many people thought South Africa would devolve into some form of civil war. Mandela avoided that, in part simply because his very presence wouldn’t allow it. It was also in part due to his inclusive style of governing described by one former friend and adviser as a shepherd directing his flock.

It’s an elegant metaphor for an elegant man. Real leaders accomplish things not by forcing reticent factions to get in line but by pointing them toward a common goal. Real unity cannot be forced, it must be forged and Mandela knew this. He used it to incredible effect. 

In reflecting on what to say in this column I found myself at first trying to compare Mandela to other great leaders. In researching it, the comparisons fell flat. 

Picture, for a moment, the faces of recent and famous American presidents. Obama. Bush. Clinton. Reagan. Kennedy. FDR. Lincoln. Picture Dr. King, Ghandi or Mother Theresa. 

Now picture Nelson Mandela’s face. 

There is the shock of gray hair, his stubborn eyes sunken with age but still as piercing as the tip of a knife. And yet there is something different about Mandela’s face than the others in my mind. His wears a smile.

This, more than anything, tells me why he was able to change the world.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.

Text Only
  • duvall, eric.jpg DUVALL: On lines blurred, crossed and nonexistent It strikes me more and more how blurry the lines have gotten in all facets of our world, large and small.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tucker, Barbara.jpg TUCKER: Oh, the joys of Sound Off Never thought the words "Thank goodness for Sound Off" would ever be printed here.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • adamczyk, ed.jpg ADAMCZYK: And now for something completely different... Last weekend I attended a local movie theater (a plushy, posh experience; they design these places now to get you out of your living room and away from your home electronics) to watch the sun set on the British Empire.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • wallace, amy.jpg WALLACE: Too much information? Is there such a thing as TMI or too much information anymore? Some might say yes.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • duvall, eric.jpg DUVALL: On reading and the lack thereof It was surprising to me a few weeks ago when a friend asked a group of us to estimate how many books we have each read over the last five years. The English teacher said 200 and he far and away led the pack. I was probably the median and my number was 20-25.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • confer, bob.jpg CONFER: A Con-Con would be a con game

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • duvall, eric.jpg DUVALL: Conflict in Ukraine now a concern of global proportions It seems increasingly clear Ukrainian separatists, with the help from the Russian military, are responsible for the tragedy. They, of course, have denied it. They've also denied access to the crash site to international investigators seeking to recover the dead and determine what happened. That's not something the innocent party does.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • ADAMCZYK: Personal development, rendered in steel Accepting the premise that everyone needs to fill the same amount of time every day (24 hours, every day), some people use theirs rebuilding things, tangible things, and thus fulfill a few intangible goals.

    July 18, 2014

  • WALLACE: Festival season is underway Summer is the season of fairs and festivals. From Canal Fest in the Tonawandas to the Allentown Art Festival and Italian Heritage Festival in Buffalo to the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, the Western New York area has no shortage of things to do with the family over the summer.

    July 17, 2014

  • duvall, eric.jpg DUVALL: King George's abdication leaves many questions I've covered Niagara County politics for 10 years and it's been a fascinating -- and often infuriating -- experience. With the news the man known with equal parts respect and cynicism as "King George" is walking away it's about to get more interesting.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo