Mandla Langa. Picture: MARIN RHODES
Mandla Langa. Picture: MARIN RHODES

A new book debunks some of the myths around former president Nelson Mandela‚ according to those involved in the production of the biography.

Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years‚ as the title suggests‚ focuses on the difficult years after the transition to democracy in 1994.

It follows the recent controversy over a book about the last years of Mandela’s life before he died in 2013.

The book was co-written by award-winning author Mandla Langa‚ who completed Mandela’s unfinished manuscript.

Langa took part in a panel discussion on the book at the SA Book Fair in Johannesburg on Sunday. He was joined by Verne Harris of the Nelson Mandela Foundation‚ author and former foundation CEO Achmat Dangor, and academic Victoria J Collis-Buthelezi.

Langa said he had delved through 70‚000 words of manuscript and studied archive material to fill in some of the gaps.

Harris said Dare Not Linger debunked the myth that Madiba was a mere figurehead in the first democratic administration.

"What Mandla has achieved is a representation of Madiba‚ which is fundamentally fresh. The mythology was that Thabo Mbeki ran government‚ Madiba was more of a symbolic figure‚ but Madiba was actually very hands-on in many areas. He could drive people nuts because he could micromanage‚" said Harris‚ who moderated the panel discussion.

"For me also noteworthy was the extent to which Madiba was a politician’s politician. He could play the game better than anybody else. He was an opportunist. He knew how to massage processes.

"So the mythology of the principled leader and what are Madiba’s values‚ you have to factor in Madiba as a president…. He wasn’t obsessed with reconciliation. He was obsessed with making democracy stick."

It follows the recent controversy over a book about the last years of Mandela’s life before he died in 2013

Dangor said part of the Mandela legacy was that all South Africans should take responsibility for their destiny and not leave it to one man.

Still‚ Dangor said he wasn’t sure whether today’s leaders could stand up to the standard set by SA’s first democratically elected leader.

"The contradiction he faced as a leader who had to unite an organisation while allowing internal dissent … whether the leaders today are capable of doing that‚ I don’t know. It is complex‚" Dangor said.

He also worried that a lack of forward thinking could stall efforts to address poverty‚ inequality and corruption.

"That is one of the things that I’m always concerned about: do we have a long-term plan? We had the RDP (Reconstruction and Development Plan) but where is the long-term plan? Whoever the leader is … if they do not have a long-term plan‚ we are not going to get there."

Langa told the audience that he had tried to reveal the "grandeur" of the man‚ which he admired but also found frustrating at times. For example‚ he wished Madiba had told off former president FW de Klerk‚ with whom he often clashed during pre-1994 negotiations.

Langa said he wished Madiba had refused to share the Nobel prize with De Klerk in 1993‚ which they were awarded for their efforts to end apartheid.

Langa later told TimesLIVE there were no signs in Madiba’s manuscript that he had resented sharing the global accolade with De Klerk. However‚ it was clear that he had other frustrations.

"The manuscript does deal with a number of his own frustrations in many circumstances. For example‚ during the (pre-1994) negotiations‚ he was stymied by the obduracy and digging in with the positions of the National Party‚" Langa said.

Earlier this year a book written by Mandela’s doctor was withdrawn after objections from the Mandela family‚ including his widow‚ Graca Machel‚ who said the publication infringed on the late statesman’s dignity.

Dare Not Linger is due to be published in October.

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