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Mandela's life, lessons remembered

Friday - 12/6/2013, 10:26am  ET

AP: 51fdd083b1a84ab48958dbedfe15df38-9
A well-wisher writes a message on a poster of Nelson Mandela on which he and others have written their messages of condolence and support, in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Flags were lowered to half-staff and people in black townships, in upscale mostly white suburbs and in South Africa's vast rural grasslands commemorated Nelson Mandela with song, tears and prayers on Friday while pledging to adhere to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
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'His whole life was a lesson'

Bob Schieffer, CBS News

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'An amazing life'

Candy Crowley, CNN

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'You can triumph over ... people's hate'

David Gregory, NBC News

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WASHINGTON - Nelson Mandela, the iconic South African leader who died Thursday at age 95, was remembered on WTOP Friday as a man from whom anyone in or out of politics could learn.

A succession of commentators on Friday morning told WTOP's Bruce Alan and Mike Moss that Mandela would be remembered for his perseverance in the face of nearly 30 years of imprisonment for fighting the racial segregation of apartheid, but for refusing to succumb to bitterness when he was released in 1990.

Candy Crowley, CNN's chief political correspondent and host of State of the Union, says of Mandela's life: "It's an amazing life of a leader, but it's also an amazing life of a human being."

She adds that his life was so long and accomplished that "you kind of forget over time, and when you go back and look, it's astonishing."

At its end, "The celebration of that life immediately came to the fore. There's sadness, but there's also just 'oh, wow.'"

Bob Schieffer, CBS News chief Washington correspondent and host of Face the Nation, said of Mandela, "his whole life was a lesson. It would be like you were taking a college course on ethics.

"He stood for perseverance, for bravery. He had a set of values. And then once his goal was achieved, he practiced forgiveness of his enemies, and reconciliation."

David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet the Press, agreed that Mandela changed South Africa "through his own incredible force of will," but added that the real example of Mandela's life was "don't allow yourself to be consumed with hate. And if you can be that model, you can triumph over people's fears and people's hatred."

Crowley says Mandela "saved the country," as he could have easily incited a civil war. But she says the mindset of forgiveness began when Mandela was still in prison.

"He could have rotted there for 25 years, but he used the time," she said.

It would be wrong to assume Mandela had no bitter feelings, but "he took them and moved them into something positive to change the situation."

President Barack Obama said on Thursday that "I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example Nelson Mandela set."

All three commentators said that Mandela set an example for politicians in all countries to follow.

Gregory said of Obama, "Here was someone who was too young to be directly part of the civil-rights era, and yet the apartheid era was something that he was able to participate in and have an emotional connection to. It's really something."

All three noted Mandela's decision to step away from South African politics after one term as president.

"He retired, yet remained a moral force in his country," Schieffer says.

Schieffer agreed with Moss that our own politicians, who have uniformly praised Mandela in the hours after his death, could take some lessons in the way they conduct their day-to-day affairs, cracking that he never heard of Mandela fearing a primary challenge.

Gregory also praised the South African leader's willingness to leave the presidency, citing Richard Stengel's book on Mandela comparing him to George Washington.

"He didn't linger," Gregory says of Washington, "and nor did Nelson Mandela. He felt it was important to be first, but not to overstay."

Gregory says that along "the arc of his life, from revolutionary to prisoner to father of the country," Mandela "became quite practical along the way. He understood that there had to be a sense of common purpose, that there had to be a sense of comfort with him."

Crowley says she will devote lots of time to Mandela on her show Sunday. Schieffer and Gregory each said they would devote their entire shows to Mandela and his legacy.

"You don't have this opportunity very often to concentrate on this," Schieffer said. "I think the nation is going to pause and take something from this.

"He was just a remarkable person, and we don't see people of his caliber come along very often."

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