Richard Stengel, a former TIME reporter who worked closely with Nelson Mandela on the leader’s autobiography, told MSNBC hosts Friday morning that the late South African president wasn’t always saintly and possessed a very human capacity for anger and grudge-holding.
“He was a pragmatic politician,” he told “Morning Joe” co-hosts Willie Geist and Mika Brzezinski. “He wasn’t a visionary necessarily, he wasn’t a philosopher, he wasn’t a saint. But he never deviated from [seeking democracy for black South Africans]. But anything that would get him there, he embraced, including violence.”
“He created the violent wing of the ANC,” he continued. “And people don’t realize that and don’t remember that. We’ve kind of made him into a Santa Claus. He wasn’t. He was a revolutionary.”
Stengel later claimed he always “smiled to himself” when people said Mandela harbored no anger or bitterness towards his captors.
“He had tremendous anger and bitterness in his heart,” Stengel said. “His entire life was taken away from him.”
The biographer later noted that Mandela’s greatest strength was “hiding” his bitterness so he could focus on pulling South Africa back from the brink.
“That’s what made him such a fantastic and astonishing politician, because he never let anybody see that,” he said.
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