President Jacob Zuma has told diplomats that Nelson Mandela had "a capacity to persuade" during negotiations with former president FW de Klerk.
Former president Nelson Mandela surprised his followers when he reconciled with his oppressors after spending nearly three decades in jail, President Jacob Zuma said on Wednesday.
"Oliver Tambo was no longer well and was no longer ready to stand as president, so Mandela was elected as president, and therefore the negotiations had to be undertaken by Madiba," Zuma told diplomats and visiting delegations at the international relations department in Pretoria.
"He became the first president of a democratic South Africa. He did something that many of us, his followers, never thought he would do."
Zuma praised Mandela for leading the ANC in the tough negotiations with the apartheid regime, led by then-president FW de Klerk. "The racist regime, as President Kaunda was describing them, were very funny. They were praying to God as they were walking against his rules. He [Mandela] said, let us come together, let us negotiate," said Zuma.
"He had this capacity to persuade, to argue his case. I used to say during the negotiations 'I don't envy De Klerk because if you have Mandela on the opposite side, you have a problem'."
Zuma said Mandela introduced and lived by the values of reconciliation, peace, justice, forgiveness and equality, which would be pursued into the future. "He was able to have these ideals and created the kind of government which today makes many of us as citizens sleep in peace. These are values which we need to pursue and deepen. This is what we remember Madiba for."
Zuma expressed gratitude to the numerous foreign dignitaries who came to mourn with South Africa. "We really feel we have brothers, sisters and friends in the world. You have comforted us indeed, we feel comforted. We will be laying him to rest in his village on December 15 and we know that many of you have played your part."
Zuma said delegations, particularly from the region, would still be around for Mandela's burial in Qunu on Sunday.
Former Zambian president and Mandela's long-time friend Kenneth Kaunda eulogised Mandela for his "endless love for humanity".
"After spending 27 years in prison, breaking stones, he came out to speak of love across colour, love for humanity. That is why so many presidents, leaders, prime ministers have come to say farewell to this great son of the world.
"Great leaders are here because he was a great man. He belonged to us all, he belonged to the world. I am very grateful that many leaders came to mourn Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela," said Kaunda.
On Monday, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said foreign heads of state and dignitaries would not be stopped from attending Mandela's funeral in Qunu, but were advised not to.
"Nobody will be prevented from attending ... however, given the size and the scale of the operation, and the size of the delegation and the limited infrastructure in the area, we advise [against it]," he told reporters in Johannesburg.
The venue in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, where Mandela will be buried on Sunday, can take only 5 000 people. Chabane said that because the site was in a rural area, the facilities in the area would not be able to accommodate the numbers. He said foreign guests should "take that advice very seriously". – Sapa