The African Studies Center and UNC Global have teamed up to create a Nelson Mandela Lunch Panel Discussion Series . The first discussion took place Monday in the FedEx Global Education Center .
Mandela, who died in December, was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and was president of the country from 1994 to 1999 .
The discussions will continue until fall 2014. Monday’s talk focused on Mandela’s trial and image as a moral icon.
Kenneth Broun , professor of law and former Chapel Hill mayor, kicked off the talk while the audience munched on their catered lunches.
“What would South Africa and the world have been like had he in fact been executed?” he asked, and discussed how important Mandela was for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
“No one person is responsible for the change over from apartheid to the constitutional democracy we now have in South Africa, but it likely would not have happened, at least as peacefully as it did, it might not have happened at all without Nelson Mandela,” he said.
Broun emphasized that it was Mandela’s great advocacy that kept him from the death penalty, but also said Mandela played an important part in preserving his own life.
“I think the critical factor was the speech of Mandela, how he comported himself before the judge,” Broun said.
Bereket Selassie , professor of African Studies and law, related a story he had been told of one of Mandela’s jailers who regarded him as more of a leader than a prisoner.
The jailer said, ‘When we took him out, instead of walking ahead of him, I naturally, instinctively felt that he was my leader so I walked behind him.’
Selassie said it was Mandela’s moral fiber that allowed him to accomplish all he did.
“Because of his character, because of his integrity, and eventually also because he was in a much stronger position to negotiate, I think he played a historic role in softening the hearts of the Afrikaners,” he said.
The speakers also talked about how some people criticized Mandela for the compromises he made to end apartheid in South Africa.
Michael Lambert , director of the African Studies Center, said he was amazed by the complexity of the post-apartheid era when he visited.
“It makes me wonder what his legacy is going to be in the long term and whether or not the contradictions within South Africa are just too overwhelming to place on the shoulders of one man,” he said.
Selassie said Mandela will be a figure remembered throughout the world.
“In my view, I think his memory will live on as a great historical figure. Not just an African figure, but also a figure beyond the African continent,” he said.