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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

UW law professor reflects on time with Nelson Mandela

Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela achieved more than any one man could ever be expected to accomplish. From leading a nation out of apartheid to persistently advocating for peace and forgiveness, to serving 27 years in prison for his beliefs, he left behind a legacy that can never be matched.

Nelson, an icon of peace and reconciliation, died Thursday at the age of 95. Heinz Klug, a professor and the current associate dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School worked for the African National Congress in Johannesburg, the liberation movement headed by Mandela and the current ruling party in South Africa.

Klug joined the organization in June 1990, just after Mandela was released from his 27-year prison sentence in February 1990.

Before being imprisoned, Mandela was an organizer and leader of the struggle in South Africa, but he quickly became a symbol for the resistance against the white apartheid while in prison.

Later, Mandela emerged from prison as a “great statesman” who stood by his principles despite being called a terrorist for so many years, and against all odds led South Africa to a successful democratic election in which he was elected president, according to Klug.

“He had an incredible presence, and he would argue that despite the regime still killing people, death squads, we had to hold steady and negotiate and figure out a way for the regime to get out of the way so a new one could be born and he was quite extraordinary in that,” Klug said.

Mandela also received a Nobel Prize with F. W. de Klerk, the white president who was part of the regime that imprisoned him. Klug said Mandela also set an example of his commitment to democracy by stepping down from the presidency after only one term, when he could have stayed in the position as long as he wanted.

“He leaves a legacy at many levels,” Klug said. “He left a legacy to resistance to oppression, a legacy of a lawyer who understood at the time the laws that were being posed on him were illegitimate and his duty as a human being to break them.”

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