The innumerable interviews and records of contacts, however brief, conducted with Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela (1918-) during his time as President of South Africa (1994-99), and in the active years following, never failed to recognise that he radiated a special quality: an ability to inspire undivided attention and devotion in whomsoever he was speaking to, something that his fans and followers soon came to call Madiba magic. The alliterative coinage, based on the honorific or clan name ‘madiba’ which Mandela, as an elder statesman, was pleased to acquire, captured a range of related meanings – memorable and powerful charm, indefinable aura, an ability to lead and inspire; in short, a powerful effect of ‘charisma’ such as the Oxford English Dictionary might define it (that is, a quality of ‘special grace’, of being endowed with a ‘god-like aura’). Indeed, the term appeared to recognise in him, as did those who used it, an epitome of the charismatic leadership that had been famously pinpointed by Max Weber early in the twentieth century; almost as if Mandela were a walking embodiment of that quality of individual personality that Weber famously identified as a central plank of social authority. However, Mandela’s charisma, his Madiba magic, this chapter proposes,

was not an isolated or even purely miraculous quality, or indeed something that he as it were cultivated for its own sake or projected cynically to achieve personal success. On one level, it is true, he did appear effortlessly to embody Max Weber’s ‘certain quality of [ … ] individual personality [ … ] set apart from ordinary men’, that ‘driving and creative force which surges through traditional authority and established rules’.1 Even as a young politician and activist, as well as later as South Africa’s first democratic president, his allure and cultural-political radiance were legendary. His charisma was based on a transfixing mixture of fame, height and good looks, a strategic political mind and encyclopaedic memory for faces, plus also an indefinable something else, an attractive Mandela-esque je ne sais quoi – all recognisable Weberian qualities. Central to his character, writes his admirer, novelist Nadine Gordimer, is ‘a remove from self-centredness, the capacity to live for others’.2