Fare Thee Well, Nelson Mandela
Apartheid is among the greatest crimes in human history. During the times it thrived, those who challenged it, like those who questioned colonialism, were branded terrorists. All sorts of words were invented by the oppressors to castigate those who they thought posed a danger to the status-quo and to their enjoyment.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela did not choose his circumstances, rather the circumstances chose him. Like people of his generation, he had no option than to fight for his freedom against a brutal system that threatened to take away his human dignity. The humanity of people like Mandela was questioned in their native South Africa. From the onset, Madiba, as he is popularly called, was never in two minds that his destiny was to fight in every possible way to free himself and his people. And this was what he did for the most part of his life, at the expense of his personal life. He fought to give a life to black South Africans.
In the famous Rivonia trial in 1964, instead of testifying, Mandela stubbornly opted to give a speech rather. That speech lasted four hours to the chagrin of the court. He ended by saying: “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
He never wavered; he never compromised. He fought for those ideals and he was victorious. Apartheid was crushed. South Africans became free in their own country and voted for the first time in 1994 in an election that put the icing on Mandela’s long tortuous fight and journey to freedom and victory against oppression and repression. He became South Africa’s first black president with a massive landslide victory in the first democratic election.
Mandela’s victory came at a heavy price. Essentially, he sacrificed his life so that his people can be free. He turned down all conditional offers of release. To him, the total freedom of black South Africans was not negotiable. His life never mattered more to him. According to him: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
The struggle cost him his youth and the golden ages they say begin at forty. It deprived him his family life, including seeing his children grow up. Above all, it cost him his marriage to his ex-wife, Winnie, who stood by him and was the voice of the struggle in those years Mandela was incarcerated at Robin Island. Nevertheless, he was never bitter against his tormentors and jailers. At his inauguration in 1994 as president, Mandela looked them straight in the eye as they sat at the front row and offered them a genuine hand of forgiveness and reconciliation. And it was very genuine. Herein lies the enigma called Nelson Mandela. What kind of a man would forgive those who tucked him away in prison for 27 years of his life? 27 years. Not 27 days; not 27 weeks and certainly not 27 months. Twenty-seven punishing years!
Only an extraordinary man would do that. Mandela was one. He was a man of extraordinary compassion, generosity and forgiveness. As aptly put by US President, Barack Obama: “He achieved more than could be expected of any man.” Notwithstanding, Mandela was humble and magnanimous even in his victories, which he loved to share with others, including those he defeated. At that 1994 inauguration, Mandela was seen been more interested in raising high the hand of F.W de Clerk – a kind of saying that it was also a victory for him.
Nobody in life has done what Mandela did. However, he achieved all that with amazing grace and infectious humour, side by side the capacity to acknowledge his imperfections. This adds to make him more amazing. Once the great Madiba said, “I’m not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” This was the modesty that typified and never left him despite all exemplary achievements and victories.
Madiba was one of the few African leaders who recognised that power should only be used to improve the lives of the people who conferred it. He is one of a kind and unfortunately there is no else like him among former or present day African leaders. And none is willing to imitate or draw inspiration from him.
Mandela inspired the world. I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from his life. I still remember vividly my excitement when he came to my University, University of Lagos shortly after he was released from prison in 1990. As an undergraduate I was already political conscious. His story made me more political conscious. Since then, I have tried to fight other people’s fight and to give voice to the voiceless. Thank you Madiba!
As British Prime Minister, David Cameron rightly said: “one of the brightest lights of our world has gone out. Nelson Mandela was not just a hero of our time, but a hero of all time.” To me, from the perspective of humanity, Mandela was the greatest man that ever lived on planet Earth.
Madiba, your life of service was a burning flame that provided light, love, hope and freedom for all. We thank you Madiba. Fare thee well!