I was quite intrigued recently when talking to some friends who happened to be anti-Mandela. I saw firsthand the effects of elevating a hero to near immortality. I saw how one group reveres the hero for his achievements and another does what it can to find fault in this demi-God. Both groups are so utterly convinced of their standpoint and perception about the hero that it becomes a fight of wrong or right rather than an objective outlook.
This theory can be clearly seen in how some skeptics of Nelson Mandela have suddenly popped out from everywhere. Gradually trying to fit him into the category of wrong or right rather than looking at him objectively. Some of these skeptics label him a colossal failure to the black population who fought for freedom. Apparently the fortunes of a black man have not changed after apartheid. In fact, the black man has become a different slave to his white master. He is accorded some basic human rights, he is given political power, he can come and go as he wishes in the country of his birth without restraint and so the list goes on. But the master still remains the white man who holds the economic power. These skeptics claim that the decisions taken by Nelson Mandela were that of a boy appeasing an abusive father so as to keep the shelter and food that the abuser offers him.
The above notions beg some pretty important questions though. Would Mandela have taken the same steps of reconciliation if there were no economic implications of the opposite? Would he have still abandoned nationalization if there wasn’t any threat of sanctions and brain drain? I suppose we would never truly know the answers to such questions. However, I ask myself this – Does it make him less of a hero if his motivations for reconciliation were driven by the above, a fear of economic collapse? Does it make him less of a good leader? Do the motivations of a giver nullify the gift?
My view is that of an objective person – or at least a person trying to be objective. I have listened to the skeptics of Nelson Mandela and I understand where they come from. Nelson Mandela was selective in his fight for freedom. Having understood the effects of what would happen if he fought for full economic reparations too, he let the injustices bestowed upon the black man to continue under the guise of new freedom. Funnily enough I thank him for it and it is for that very reason that he will remain a true leader in my eyes.
He was faced with choosing two paths for a new South Africa. The popular path to Pyrrhic victory where he nationalizes, jails perpetrators of injustices, takes jobs from the whites and gives to the blacks and so forth. But he did not take this road. He understood of course that you can’t eat a diamond or gold bar at the dinner table (If you can get to it of course). We would still need to sell it to the very same people we have demonized to survive. He understood that land alone without the means or the skills to farm it does not equate to wealth, that a structure of a bank is not a bank without the skills of the banker, and that a university is no different from a city hall unless you have a qualified professor transferring his knowledge to the next generation. What this means then is that he clearly saw what the most important assets of the country were – its people or more accurately – its skilled people (Despite their color).
He chose the second but most difficult road - The less popular road. Having identified the true assets of the economy, he worked tirelessly to save that precious resource with the hope of giving his people a fighting chance. Perhaps he saw in his people a kind of brilliance that we couldn’t see in ourselves. He could easily step down as leader for us to continue the fight because he saw the will in us to do so. The disappointment has been us, the people who he entrusted with the responsibility of continuing the fight. He couldn’t have foreseen that we had developed an insatiable appetite for heroes. He couldn’t have foreseen that with the hard fought start he gave us, we would squander it waiting for another to save us. We cannot see in ourselves what he saw in us.
I thank him as a black man that he, as a leader, understood the consequences of his decisions. I thank him for choosing a less popular path. I thank him for being a true leader. In the same breath, I would like to apologize to him for squandering the chances he gave us. I apologize that I did not fully understand the true meaning of freedom – “respecting and enhancing the freedom of others.” I apologize that he gave me a chance to stand, but I haven’t chosen to stand for something meaningful. I apologize for waiting for a hero to save me when he saw a hero in me. I apologize for making an excuse about my circumstances when he gave up what was dear to him to enhance my freedom. I apologize for not continuing the walk on the path he chose, but simply gave up and focused on others.
I understand fully that freedom comes with enormous responsibilities – one of which is the freedom of choice. I cannot complain about the minority holding economic power but choose a government that perpetuates that power for personal benefit. I cannot claim higher moral standing by pointing at one race as evil and soulless but choose to turn a blind eye to my neighbors’ struggles. I have the freedom to choose to empower myself and those around me to change our circumstances. I choose freedom over instant wealth.
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