Mandela once famously said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” As we reflect on his leadership and legacy, these words ring true. In 2015, the United Nations established the Nelson Mandela Rules, a set of guidelines for the treatment of prisoners. This is a testament to Mandela’s courage and resilience, having spent 27 years, including time in solitary confinement on Robben Island.
President Mandela believed that challenges can either break or make individuals. This sentiment is evident in his leadership, character, and way of life. The Nelson Mandela Freedom Plaza serves as a reminder that the impossible can become possible through struggle, moral conviction, belief, and resilient leadership. It’s easy to imagine President Mandela engaging in a conversation with Abraham Lincoln, discussing these shared values just across the road on the National Mall.
Numerous leaders have contributed to the realization of Mandela’s vision. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Judy Ansley, Chair of the Board of the USIP, as well as former chairs Ambassador George Moose and Steve Hadley. I also want to thank President Lise Grande for her leadership and support, Nancy Zirkin, Chairperson of the International Advisory Council, and the incredible USIP team, including Rusty, Bob, and Anne Marie, who organized today’s event.
I am especially grateful to three dear friends who have been constant sources of encouragement throughout this project: Chet Crocker, my mentor, General G Mattis, and Steve Whisnant. I would also like to express my appreciation to Senator Warnock and Ambassador Brigety for their insightful remarks, and Ambassador, thank you for your leadership in South Africa. Lastly, I want to acknowledge my dear wife Teresa, whose unwavering love and support have carried us through this journey.
In my twenties, I had the honor of working with President Mandela. When I was just 26 years old, he unexpectedly asked me to help rebuild law enforcement and intelligence in South Africa following a devastating bombing. This led to the establishment of the Directorate of Special Operations, also known as the Scorpions, which aimed to protect South Africa’s young democracy from corruption, organized crime, and terrorism.
During my time working with President Mandela on this project, I learned invaluable leadership lessons. Today, I would like to share a few of these lessons because I believe the Nelson Mandela Freedom Plaza embodies them. Firstly, President Mandela emphasized the alliance between South Africa and the United States. He believed, much like Winston Churchill, that fighting with allies is no easy task. That’s why he developed a deep admiration for America and made multiple visits to strengthen the bond between our nations.
When President Mandela asked me to establish this unit, he urged me to find the best people in America who could help defend democracy in South Africa. The first person I introduced to him was a senior CIA officer. In South African culture, men often hold hands as a sign of friendship or kinship. So, when this officer met President Mandela, the first thing he did was hold his hand throughout the entire meeting. Their connection was unbreakable, a symbol of the partnership they were forging. When it was time for the officer to leave, Mandela told him, “South Africa needs your help.” Later, when some forces tried to spread disinformation about their collaboration, Mandela released a press statement with the headline: “Mandela asked CIA Chief’s Help to Combat Organized Crime in South Africa.”
Lise Grande, President, United States Institute of Peace
Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock
Ambassador George Moose, Former Chair, Board of Directors United States Institute of Peace
Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II, United States Ambassador to South Africa
Chargé d’Affaires Ntshinga, Embassy of the Republic of South Africa here in Washington
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Read Ambassador Brigety’s full remarks here.
“I would also like to acknowledge Andre Pienaar for his sustained commitment to the United States Institute of Peace and to preserving the legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, or Madiba. Andre’s contributions to the Institute’s endowment in honor of Madiba and his service on the Institute’s International Advisory Council have helped foster partnerships that support peace and good governance on the Continent. As someone who has committed much of my professional life towards those same ends, I want to thank you personally.” United States Ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety.