Former Secretary of State James Baker on Sunday said he was certain that former President Ronald Reagan regretted his veto of anti-apartheid sanctions that was later overridden by the Congress.
“Once that happened, and control of South African policy passed to the Congress, President Reagan was really determined to meet with and deal with the black leaders of South Africa and deal with the problems of apartheid,” Baker said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And he was able to do so. “
“I had the privilege of meeting with Nelson Mandela in Namibia on the occasion of Namibian Independence Day three short weeks after he had been released from prison,” Baker said.
“I have to tell you that I was really amazed at the soft spokenness of this man, at the conviction of this man, at the dignity of this man. He was, he had an enduring and endearing presence of dignity that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on any other person.” Baker added. “And I just have always felt that this was an extraordinarily beautiful human being who became, of course, an icon of freedom, of human rights, and of reconciliation.”
Baker said Mandela opposed the former secretary of State’s meeting with South African President F.W. de Klerk, which resulted in a “startling statement.”
“Mandela didn’t want to see us do that. As it turned out, it ended up being the right thing to do. But when I met with F.W. de Klerk in Pretoria, at the end of our meeting, he called me into a room, just the two of us, and he said, ‘Mr. Secretary I want to tell you something. I am going to be the last white president of South Africa.’ That was a startling statement at the time, if you think back to 1990. As it turned out, of course, that was correct.”
Baker also remembered a 1999 visit by Mandela to the public policy institute at Rice University named after the former secretary of state, when a 12-year-old boy asked Mandela how he wanted to be remembered.
“How do you want to be remembered, Mr. Mandela? Everyone talks about how your almost a saint,” Baker recalled the boy asking, adding that Mandela replied, “Son, I’m no saint. I’m not an angel. I’m no saint unless you consider a saint to be a sinner who keeps on trying.”
“I thought that was a wonderful encapsulation of a person,” Baker added.