3 heroes continue the fight

2004-04-22 16:00
Johannesburg - Together they led South Africa through the end of apartheid and, despite retirement, the grand triumvirate of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Frederik de Klerk continues to inspire.

Mandela, 85 and Tutu, 72 are among the few remaining pioneers of the anti-apartheid struggle following the deaths of Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki over the past years.

Mandela, who stepped down as South Africa's first black president in 1999, had repeatedly declared that he would opt for a humdrum retirement growing vegetables and bouncing his many great-grandchildren on his knee.

However, it has been anything but that. His third wife Graca Machel, whom he married at 80, rightly predicted that he would never rest as he was too much of a "political animal."

A world icon of reconciliation, in the words of Tutu, the former leader has acted as a mediator in war-torn Burundi and has been called upon to take on peace-making roles in the Middle East and Kashmir.

Unwaveringly loyal to his party, the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela however does not hesitate to freely air his views over controversial issues like President Thabo Mbeki's failure to respond to the Aids pandemic or corruption in the ranks of the new black elite.

Mandela has also lambasted George W Bush as a "a president who can't think properly" for unleashing a war on Iraq and was joined in his criticism by Tutu who termed the war as "unjustifiable, immoral and evil."

The "conscience" of the struggle

Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town, widely regarded as the "conscience" of the anti-apartheid struggle, was the soul of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to heal the wounds of apartheid through testimony and amnesty.

Like Mandela, Tutu, who suffered from a near-fatal bout of prostate cancer in 1996, has not hesitated to speak out against the new order when he felt things were going awry.

The government's late response to Aids, the country's biggest killer, led Tutu to compare the leadership with the Roman emperor Nero, saying: "We cant afford to be fiddling as our particular Rome burns."

Tutu has also been a vocal critic of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, whose regime he has described as "oppressive and undemocratic", in strong contrast to Mbeki's refusal to confront the hardline leader in Harare.

Mandela also once famously said Mugabe, a hero in Zimbabwe's independence struggle, should quit, saying: "Look, you have been in office for 20 years, it's time to step down."

A positive message

Like Mandela and Tutu, de Klerk, the last white president, has a Nobel prize and a foundation doing humanitarian work as well as a busy schedule as a sought-after speaker on the international circuit.

The last apartheid president, who freed Mandela and lifted a ban on the ANC, is delivering a positive message about the future of the country, inviting whites to contribute to the building of the new South Africa.

"We will continue to keep the miracle alive," de Klerk, 68, said recently.

De Klerk also endeared himself to South Africans following the brutal murder in 2001 of his former wife Marike, when he gave moving testimony during the murder trial.

He is now a member of the Global Leadership Foundation, a group made up of former leaders offering support and advice to presidents and prime ministers around the world, especially in developing nations.

Mandela basks in international adulation, Tutu is busy with teaching assignments at England's Cambridge University, while de Klerk is sought after for his advice on coping with change.

Together, the main players of the South African "miracle" have earned their place in history.

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