Friday, July 25, 2008

Nelson Mandela at 90

Africa’s greatest living legend, former President of the African National Congress (ANC) and former President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, will be ninety years old on July 18, 2008. The world has begun to stand still for this great symbol of freedom and liberation struggle who devoted his entire life, with total selflessness and inimitable commitment, to the liberation of his country from apartheid and the rest of the world from oppression, disease and poverty.

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Transkei, to Chief Gadla Henry Mphokanyiswa and Noskeni Fanny Mandela. A qualified lawyer (1948), Mandela was educated at the Fort Hare College, graduating with a BA in 1942, and the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. From 1944 when he joined the African National Congress, the revolutionary movement which became the majority Party of the country until 1994—when the country gained independence, Mandela committed his life to the cause of freedom for his country. A man who later won the Nobel Prize for Peace, Nelson Mandela was the proponent of the idea of deploying violence as a tool in the anti-apartheid struggle, through Umkhonto we Sizwe which he founded.

For his total and uncompromising involvement in the resistance against the ruling National Party’s apartheid policies, he suffered prolonged and continual periods of imprisonment. He was tried for treason between 1956 and 1961 and was acquitted in 1961. In 1962, he was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment with hard labour. He was later brought to trial along with other leaders of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe on the charge of attempting to violently overthrow the apartheid regime.

In June 1964, Mandela and eight other ANC leaders accused, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated in the Roben Island Prison, Cape Town and later moved to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland before his final release on February 12, 1991. He was elected President of the African National Congress and became the first democratically elected black Pressident of the Republic of South Africa. All through his 27 years ordeal in prison, he never compromised his political stand to attain personal freedom, in spite of numerous attempts by the government to make him do so.

It is less his chequered life as manifest in his intimidating bio-data that accounts for his legendary status among African and world heroic leaders than the exemplary and uniquely symbolic nature of his gift to Africa and to the world as a model statesman, a selfless visionary and politician and a committed, humane leader.

Mandela laid the example of how not to self-perpetuate in power. With his life-long and protracted commitment to the liberation of South Africa, a selfish and paranoid leader would have clutched on to the leadership of his country, justifiably. But Nelson Mandela voluntarily relinquished power and party leadership just when the ovation began to resound. He left political office before the end of his first tenure. It is this selfless de-privatization of power that we had expected other African leaders to emulate and shun the sit-tight syndrome in political office.

The tenure elongation bid of Obasanjo, the endless reigns of Paul Biya, Gadaffi, Mubarak, Compraore and the rule-or-die regime of Robert Mugabe reveal the inability of African leaders to learn from the example of Madiba Mandela. This is manifest in the case of Mugabe who, like Mandela, gave so much to the liberation struggle and freedom of his country, but who, unlike Mandela, and due to what Mandela has just described as ‘a tragic failure of leadership’ would rather destroy his country than quit power.

Another remarkable legacy of Mandela is his institutionalization of the essential attributes of a statesman. His life after his Presidency has been devoted to mobilizing material and political resources to address critical needs of mankind—poverty, the AIDS scourge, freedom struggles, the child aid, and the termination of political oppression wherever it exists in the world. He has accomplished these feats through deploying his mammoth influence towards fund-raising by his numerous Foundations such as The Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela Children Fund and Mandela Rhodes Foundation.

As we celebrate the life and achievements of this immortal hero and legend of our time, it is important that we enunciate those values he has taught Africa and the world, and from which neither his country nor the rest of Africa, in their present political and economic uncertainties, should depart. First is the transcient nature of power.

That with the correct attitude to power as service to the public and held in trust for the people, leaders must not wallow in self- masturbation and power thirst. Mandela left power when it was sweetest. Secondly, that you need not be in political office to contribute to the growth of your society and mankind. With a disposition of unnerving humility and profound perceptiveness, Mandela’s personality became the focus and symbol of historical and international dimensions, which led him into a singular vision of the world that is colour-blind and non-racial. Africa and the globalizing world have so much to learn from this hero of all ages.

We remain standing, with the rest of the world, in celebrating the legendary Madiba—politician, statesman, dancer, boxer, lawyer and world leadership model, at 90.