Ronan O'Beirne

Mandela: covering the death of a giant

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Image via Richard Madan.

Image via Richard Madan.

It’s an unfortunate truism that terrible events beget excellent journalism, and the death of Nelson Mandela is no different. Journalists have had ample time to prepare coverage for his passing, and it shows. Here is our selection of some of the best Canadian coverage of Mandela’s life and legacy:

Months ago, when Mandela’s health was failing, retired diplomat Gary Bedell wrote a short memoir in the Toronto Star of his time working as an aide to Mandela during his 1990 tour of Canada and the United States. Many people have written op-eds about their encounters with the man, but Bedell’s connection to him is more moving and less tangential than most.

The Globe and Mail’s Stephanie Nolen wrote a unique take on Mandela’s reconciliation as a political tool, explaining why forgiveness was not only “a deeply felt principle,” but also “part of a canny strategy.”

The Globe’s obituary is long and insightful (typical of Sandra Martin’s work), as is The New York Times’s, written by former Johannesburg correspondent—and later, executive editor—Bill Keller. The Times also compiled short videos with some of its former South Africa reporters. Martin’sGlobe video is a good primer on the meaning of the man.

For a historical perspective, see Sun News commentator Ray Heard, who is himself South African and who covered Mandela’s first trial in 1956. Chris Bateman of BlogTO has a nice piece about the South African leader’s visits to Toronto in 1990 and during his time as president in 1998.

CBC’s The Mandela Tapes are an exceptional and intimate look at him, compiled from interviews he did with biographer Rick Stengel. The broadcaster’s timeline of Mandela’s life is also beautifully put together.

Canada’s role in the fight against apartheid has long been part of the national identity and that’s no more obvious than now. Articles about Brian Mulroney’s aggressively anti-apartheid stance are pretty much everywhere, but Postmedia’s Mark Kennedy—who has been covering politics since 1988—has a good look back on the relationship between the prime minister and Mandela. (Mulroney, incidentally, had op-eds in both the Globe and theToronto Sun.)

But this country was not always so friendly to Mandela and the African National Congress. Over at Maclean’s, John Geddes writes that Canada came late to the cause, and Dan Gardner reminds us that Mulroney’s predecessor was apathetic at best about South Africa.

Along similar lines, some American outlets have noted that the people now putting out press releases with their condolences once opposed Mandela.

The Review, too, has sometimes written about Mandela. In 1987, we spoke with South African-Canada journalist Marq de Villiers about press coverage of his home country; the next year, we wrote about a controversial documentary that the Sun’s founding editor, Peter Worthington, made about the ANC.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, so tweet us your favourite Mandela stories (we’re @RyersonReview) or leave a link in the comments below.

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