Africa mourns its towering Baobab

2013-12-08 14:00

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Percy Mabandu and Xolani Mbanjwa recall Nelson Mandela’s journey through the continent on which he influenced so many

Former president Nelson Mandela loved Africa. In return, the continent of which he was widely considered the greatest leader – even long after his retirement from politics – is mourning his death.

From Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, Maputo to Abuja, tributes have poured in since news of Mandela’s death at his Houghton home broke late on Thursday night.

Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan expressed sympathy and solidarity with “the government and people of South Africa, and the family of Dr Nelson Mandela on the death of one of the greatest sons of Africa”.

He further wrote: “We join you?...?and lovers of freedom, peace, justice and equity all over the world in praying that God Almighty will receive the great Madiba’s soul and grant him eternal rest.”

Jonathan’s tribute was followed by another from Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta, who used Twitter to share his nation’s grief.

“It is with profound sorrow that I have learnt of the passing away of ‘Shujaa’ Nelson Mandela, an outstanding African statesman and icon,” he tweeted.

Kenyatta then declared three days of mourning in the east African country.

It’s the same in Tanzania, where three days of national mourning began on Friday and that country’s flags were flown at half-mast.

Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete said in a statement: “We understand how painful [it is] for South Africans to lose such a brave, revolutionary and tolerant leader.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe described Mandela as “a champion of the oppressed”.

“Mr Mandela’s renowned political life will forever remain a beacon of excellence,” Mugabe – Africa’s oldest ruler at 89 – said in his first official reaction, carried by state-run newspaper The Herald yesterday.

“The late Nelson Mandela will forever remain in our minds as an unflinching fighter for justice,” said Mugabe, although early this year he criticised Mandela for being too soft on whites after the end of apartheid.

Mandela’s relationship with Africa extends far beyond tributes.

It began in February 1962 when the ANC sent him as a delegate to the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Travelling under the alias David Motsamai, Mandela met with Emperor Haile Selassie I and delivered a speech after the Ethiopian emperor had spoken at the conference.

The event launched Mandela’s travels to Cairo, Egypt, where he met President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and to Tunis in Tunisia where President Habib Bourguiba gave him £5?000 for weaponry.

He then went on to Morocco, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal, receiving funds from Liberia President William Tubman and Guinea President Ahmed Sékou Touré.

His arrest and subsequent imprisonment cut his travels short, but when he was released and became president, Mandela renewed his commitment to the continent.

He was appointed as mediator in the Burundi peace process by a regional summit in Arusha.

There, as had been the case during South Africa’s tough reconciliation process, Mandela made a call to include all sides in the talks.

“We can’t sideline anybody who can create instability in the country, we cannot ignore them,” he famously said.

Mandela also enjoyed an excellent relationship with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, which astonished and discomfited Western powers.

Former president Nelson Mandela is flanked by, from left: Burundi President Pierre Buyoya and Kenya President Daniel Arap Moi. On his right is Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Rival political groups in Burundi agreed to split the presidency of the African country in a deal mediated by Mandela. Picture: Alexander Joe/AFP

He visited the North African country twice between his release from jail in 1990 and his inauguration as president in 1994.

And he didn’t care one jot for international criticism of his warm friendship with Brother Leader.

Mandela famously rebutted then US president Bill Clinton’s criticism of his friendship with Gaddafi, saying: “Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go jump in the pool.”

He went on to explain the role Gaddafi and Libya had played in South Africa.

“The eventual collapse of the apartheid system was owed much to the contribution of Muammar Gaddafi and the Libyan people.

“This man helped us at a time when we were all alone, when those who say we should not come [to Libya] were helping the enemy [the apartheid government].”

Mandela showed his love for Africa in the ultimate way by marrying former Mozambican first lady Graça Machel.

He was warmly remembered by Mozambican Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina this week.

It was clear Mandela was a mentor to many powerful Africans.

Malawi President Joyce Banda described him as “an outstanding political leader I met and shared notes with”.

She further said: “We have all drawn inspiration from Madiba. We have learnt that with courage and determination we can overcome all evil.”

But Mandela’s influence stretched beyond the continent’s corridors of power.

This week, scores of ordinary people also remembered the man who for many was the most famous of all Africans.

Anthony Yeboah, from Ghana, held a South African and a Ghanaian flag aloft at the Union Buildings on Friday. He said it was one of the saddest days of his life.

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