It is hard to imagine a world without Nelson Mandela although one suspects that his spirit will continue to throw a beacon of light into an increasingly challenged and complex world.
He was a man of values who "believed in things"; he was not an opportunistic politician who just reacted to opinion polls as the barometer for action, but was a man whose destiny it was to be the Father of a Nation. Mandela - or Madiba as he is widely known in South Africa - simply always tried to do the right thing.
Today, Mandela is a hero. Let’s not forget what tremendous moral strength, intelligence and humanitarian substance is needed to reach out to one’s oppressors after 27 years of imprisonment in order to jointly build the new South Africa. What a vision! Contrary to many leaders in history who forgot about their benevolence during imprisonment, reaching out for revenge when they had the power to do so, Mandela stands out demonstrating true leadership by example.
In 1993 when ANC icon Chris Hani was assassinated in a conspiracy of two right wing fanatics, it was Nelson Mandela who appeared on national television to remind the nation what "Comrade Chris" had stood for. It was, he said, not the time for revenge but for reflection and he reminded everyone that it was a white woman who had provided the vital evidence to the police which ensured the perpetrators swiftly faced justice. In the face of such provocation, there was no desire for revenge, only reconciliation. In his hands, he held the power over the nation; he chose the path of peace; and the nation listened to him.
Soon after becoming President, Nelson Mandela adopted rugby during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The South African Captain, Francois Pienaar, to this day still speaks of the massive influence Madiba had on his life. Those of us privileged that day to have witnessed Nelson Mandela walking out onto Ellis Park wearing the jersey of the captain will recall a moment of history. In a moment, Mandela became the leader of all of South Africa.
In 1991, an awful incident in a township called Kagiso west of Johannesburg occurred. Dozens of innocent people were murdered in a rampage by inhabitants of a nearby hostel. Once again, the country stood on the edge.
A couple of days later, as part of a delegation of business-people, I met with Nelson Mandela and the ANC leadership. During this meeting, Mr Mandela suggested that we travel to Kagiso that very day to participate in a memorial service to pay respects to this devastated community. Of the 100 business-people, just a small handful made it to Kagiso, including three of us from my company. Many thousands of simultaneously angry, sad, mournful people welcomed the "dark suits" from the city. It was more than a humbling moment. Nelson Mandela walked onto the stage and his first words were: "I see my friends from Johannesburg are here; you are welcome". Such generosity of spirit at such a time! To call it a moving experience doesn't come close to doing it justice.
Not only South Africa, but the entire world has lost an unprecedented, outstanding leader. Mandela's vision, statesmanship and integrity have become the reference point for value-based policy-making in order to achieve democracy, freedom and social market economy. Millions and millions of people are grieving for their hero today.
And we all wonder if we will ever see the likes of this man again.
The author is South African, European and Member of the Board of Allianz SE