The year and a half I spent in South Africa working with Nelson Mandela on his autobiography--seeing him most every day--were extraordinarily thrilling and rewarding. (And add to that the fact that I met my wife there too.) When the project was over, I missed him terribly and stayed in touch as much as I could. With his 90th birthday approaching, I wanted to make sure that my two boys--each of whom boasts a Mandela-related middle name--saw the great man one more time. He was sunny and happy that morning, and spent most of the time entertaining my sons.
In addition to the worldwide celebration of his 90th birthday, I wanted TIME to mark it in a significant way. To me, Mandela's model of leadership is so profound and historic that I decided to focus on explaining what the world can learn from it. I went back to South Africa last month to talk to two of the men who know Mandela best: Cyril Ramaphosa and Ahmed Kathrada. Ramaphosa is one of the great leaders of modern South Africa (and a favorite of Mandela's) and was the powerful head of the National Union of Mineworkers when Mandela was released. Kathrada is both a lifelong freedom fighter and friend of Mandela's who spent those long and lonely years in prison by Mandela's side. Their insight into his leadership skills and style is invaluable.
Mandela retired from politics in 1999. But he has remained active, continuing his work through the Nelson Mandela Foundation (ably run by Achmat Dangor). After his retirement, Mandela publicly expressed his regret at not having acted sooner on HIV/AIDS. The foundation set up an AIDS program and helped launch 46664 (named after Mandela's prison number), a global HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. The current focus of the foundation is its Centre of Memory and Dialogue, which is producing an interactive archive of Mandela's life and times, with the goal of applying his lessons to critical social issues. In 2003 Mandela founded the Mandela-Rhodes Foundation, which is centered on a remarkable scholarship program for African students but is aimed even more broadly at promoting leadership in Africa. If our story inspires you to find out more about Mandela's life or to get involved in his work, visit www.nelsonmandela.org
Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR