[What follows is taken from an article in today’s edition of The Sunday Herald headlined A difficult friend to the West:]
Elsewhere in the Middle East, one of Mandela's first visits after his release was to travel to Libya to thank President Gaddafi for his unbending support for the ANC, providing funds, training and weapons to the armed wing. Four years later, in 1994, Gaddafi was an official guest at Mandela's swearing in as president. The gesture was all the more remarkable because at the time the Libyan president was a pariah in the international community. When Western governments made clear their displeasure, Mandela responded: "Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go jump in the pool."
So important was that connection that one of Mandela's grandsons is named after Gaddafi. Not for the first or the last time the newly elected South African president demonstrated that behind his courtesy and his frankness he had a spine of steel and would not be bullied. To him it was quite simple: while the West had done very little to shackle the apartheid regime in South Africa, Libya had been a close ally and supporter of the ANC and it was unthinkable that the friendship should cease. As ever, though, Mandela was not just following his heart: there was a purpose to his diplomacy. Far from following a personal whim, Mandela played a key role in ending Gaddafi's isolation by brokering a deal with the UK over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.
Under its terms Gaddafi handed over the two leading suspects, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah and Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, for trial by a Scottish court. The former was acquitted and returned to Libya but Megrahi was jailed for life. At the time that the two men were handed over for trial, Mandela claimed that it was one of his biggest foreign policy achievements and that it underlined the importance of maintaining an independent foreign policy.
"No-one can deny that the friendship and trust between South Africa and Libya played a significant part in arriving at this solution," he said in 1999 as he approached the end of his presidency. "It vindicates our view that talking to one another and searching for peaceful solutions remains the surest way to resolve differences and advance peace and progress in the world."
Eight years into his sentence Megrahi was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds, a decision that was also welcomed by Mandela. In a world in which hard-nosed politics usually takes precedence over humanity and common sense that kind of universalism, backed by strong moral values, is going to be badly missed.