A hero, a leader, a legend, a lesson
The world has been orphaned. It has lost one of its greatest leaders and statesmen, a man towering heads and shoulders above the rest. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013), who left us all on Thursday, breathed his last in his Johannesburg residence. What could be said of a man who has left his mark in every sphere of international politics and culture, left an impression and legacy so overwhelmingly great that it defies literary rendition altogether. Undoubtedly, the most important thinker, leader and revolutionary that 20th century had produced, perhaps even a cut above Mahatma Gandhi, although everyone would count Mandela as the ‘greatest Gandhian’ that has ever lived. That’s because Mandela’s contribution isn’t limited to South Africa alone, the politics of which he transformed so completely that it had no other way but to choose him as its first black president. This in a country that maintained colour and race apartheid between the blacks and the whites for almost five decades (1948-94) and tried to ruthlessly and violently enforce the barbaric racial segregation laws, that cost the lives of innumerable political activists. Mandela, who has been more respected and celebrated in his lifetime than any other political figure in history, too, had spent 27 years behind bars, yet his tireless efforts to liberate his country from racial division and discrimination never ran out of steam. His quiet and peaceful revolution, his long years in prison until 1990 and his winning the first post-apartheid democratic election of 1994 by a landslide, are perhaps merely the historically graspable milestones of his life in which every moment was a lesson in political ethics, morality and compassion.
What really is Mandela’s much talked about legacy? In a world deliriously chasing the ever new and ever scintillating, Mandela reflected the solid light of human endurance, perseverance, patience and determination to bring in lasting, definitive and groundbreaking change. His was an uncompromising and absolute civil disobedience against a thoroughly repressive governmental apparatus. His brave defiance of the brutal and racist regime under the Afrikaner-dominated National Party, as evident from his intrepid 1964 statement from the dock in the Riviona trial, encapsulates the best and the hardest in the history of political struggles across centuries and continents. His statesmanship, unlike many of the contemporary political demagogues who masquerade as leaders, was more practice than preaching, and it successfully led a nation, that was almost destined for a bloody racial war, to peace and real democracy. His words of wisdom, held together in his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, has been a Bible and a manifesto for many present-day political figures, chiefly the US president Barack Obama, who has expressed on several counts his indebtedness to the twin champions of non-violence, Mandela and Gandhi. But what can be said of the glamorous presidents and prime ministers, some of whom are occupying the plum posts as this editorial gets written, who were after the leader’s blood? What does it say of France, which, from De Gaull to Giscard d’Estaing, had cooperated with the racist apartheid regime in South Africa? How does one take the posthumous paeans sung by British prime minister David Cameron, who, while being a part of the ‘Federation of Conservative Students’ at Oxford University, wanted ‘Mandela, the terrorist, to hang.’ Amnesty International had refused to consider Mandela as a ‘prisoner of conscience’ since the man hadn’t rejected violence (in theory, of course, he hardly ever practiced it) as an instrument of revolution. British and American stalwarts such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, too, had termed the pioneer a ‘terrorist.’ Even Barack Obama, for all his Madibaphilia, is a disgraced student of the great leader, since he has let down the wider global community through his persistent advocacy of drone diplomacy. Looks like Mandela’s greatness is not just inimitable, it’s also much, much above what the rest can ever hope to achieve in their lifetimes.