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Moved by Mandela

Patrick Dunne, lay council member and founder of Warwick in Africa, reflects on the impact Nelson Mandela had on him.


On Saturday 10 July 1996, Nelson Mandela was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Warwick. Watch the footage from the ceremony, featuring former Chancellor of the University of Warwick Sir Shridath Ramphal, and photographs from the day.


"There are many terrific tributes being paid to Nelson Mandela and justifiably so. Mine is a simple one. I didn’t know him, I never met him and sadly I only saw him once from the distance. Yet he moved me in a way that no other leader in my life time has and I am sure that this will be so for many as they now reflect on his passing.

Leadership by example is underrated these days. Perhaps because leadership by sound-bite is so much easier or maybe because a great vision carries so much political and personal risk. Of course Nelson Mandela could deliver a great quote with the best of them. Anyone who has been to the wall of quotes at the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg will know this. He also had a heightened sense of political risk in the way that I suspect only those who have come so close to a death sentence could.

Yet for a man to emerge from 27 years in prison with so much humanity and grace after suffering such injustice and inhumanity was truly remarkable. He was denied freedom for the bulk of his adult life and suffered the pain of being unable to be by his standard a true father. He lost many of his closest friends including Chris Hani, his potential successor, who was assassinated in 1993.

The example he set through the truth and reconciliation process, through encouraging people to focus on a potentially bright future rather than a dark past, through the way he conducted himself and above all treated people with respect marked him out as a very special type of leader.

What small success we have had with Warwick in Africa is due to Mandela’s inspiration. He believed in the power of the young to create a better world. He believed in education. He believed in respect and he believed in seeing beyond the petty problems of today and focussing on what is good and what is possible.

Few people who have heard, read, seen or met Nelson Mandela have failed to be moved by his extraordinary presence. His life, so dominated by his “long walk to freedom”, was remarkable shaping him in a unique way. That a man could have emerged from so long in prison with his resilience, charm and charisma made him one of the great leaders. His capacity to unite with a twinkle to defuse with a smile and to galvanise with his logic was truly exceptional.

I wonder how many people have been inspired by his example and have then influenced others. For me Mandela has been a solar power, a source of energy and inspiration and I feel sure that he will continue to move me and countless others until the day we expire."

Nelson Mandela with Sir Shridath "Sonny" Ramphal, Chancellor of the University from 1989-2002.