Mandela epitomises greatness even in death

2013-12-06 07:31

The sad news of the passing away of former president and world's most beloved statement, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, on 5 December 2013 marks the end of an era in South Africa and in many ways in the world too. He may have passed on, the spirit of greatness will continue to live in us for centuries.

Mandela has captivated many since the 1940s when he emerged to one of the four young leaders in the ANC Youth League to drive the transformation of the ANC's approach to the struggle from moderate to radical, from limited to mass-based, from mainly black to non-racial, and from largely national to global domains. He was part of the generation of South Africans to change the course of the liberation struggle and would be crowned president when that struggle reached its climax with the first fully democratic elections in 1994.

Madiba together with Walter Sisulu, Oliver Reginald Tambo and Govan Mbeki changed the course of history. They became key agents through which the struggle shifted gear when it encountered great difficulties and cruel suppression by the apartheid regime. It is a phase that saw the mass mobilization of the struggle for democracy. When the clamp down intensified with leaders getting arrested and liberation movements were detained, this struggled turn into a virulent underground endeavour.

It was a phase where the struggle by South Africans was taken to the world to isolate the apartheid state after Mandela had gone to a number of African countries in 1961 asking for solidarity. His beloved political movement, the ANC, would end up largely in exile in Angola, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia, where it also faced immense difficulties, but also grew in stature in the eyes of South Africans, Africans and the rest of the world.

In this phase, his friend, OR Tambo played a leading role and would provide overall leadership as Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu languished in jail for decades. Mandela would be brought back to the limelight by the ANC's Free Mandela campaign that began in the late 1970s and would peak in the 1980s with the 1976 student uprising providing the backdrop for it. From then on, Mandela would be the rallying name in the building of a Mass Democratic Movement in the country under the leadership of the United Democratic Movement that the banned ANC had established and COSATU, the federation of radical trade unions associated with it.

Madiba would also play a critical role as engagements with the apartheid regime began in the 1980s mainly through Afrikaner intellectuals, church leaders, business executives and other interlocutors. As he recalls in his biography, The Long Walk to Freedom, Madiba in secret consultation with the OR Tambo leadership in Lusaka, Zambia, started engaging senior politicians in the Nationalist Party. His release in February 1990 was a culmination of efforts in which he included, though constrained by prison terms, a process of seeking a negotiated settlement.

Hardly mentioned in public discourses today, Madiba played a pivotal role in bridging the struggle - not ending it- from exile and jail to the negotiating table and government. Epitomising this switch in the struggle, Madiba combined the spirit of negotiation and comprise with the unwavering commitment to bring down an evil system and defend the interests of the oppressed masses. He ensured genuine negotiation and respect of the other side, but he was also scathing about the regime's manoevres when these threatened the dream of the masses to be free and to prosper.

In government, Mandela would epitomise the efforts to ensure national reconciliation after three centuries of oppression and division. He humbly reached out to even the most conservative white Afrikaner, ushering them out of the laager as it were and assuring them of a place in the fashioning of a new united nation. He epitomized the spirit of forgiveness and memory. He led an ANC-led government that included the opposition, forging a united political vision for rebuilding South Africa.

In government, he reached out to the world for united action against all forms of inhumanity including poverty, inequality, disease, violence including violence against women, racism, sexism, and imperialism. He reached out to the outcast of the world system, from Libya's Muamar Qadaffi to Kim Jong-Ill of North Korea, to ensure a world that includes all and that is just and fair to all. He chastised those who sought to impose their will on others, especially big countries that had become used to doing so.

He retired after just one presidential term, deciding to give power over to younger leaders. He handed over to a younger leader of great intellect and energy, Thabo Mbeki, to whom he had already devolved power several years later. In thus he symbolism a great mark leadership: the ability to understand time and recognise talent that the country needed. He steered the ANC down the path of a planned succession, which of course it did not follow when it removed Mbeki from his position in 2008.

As his body lies in state before the funeral and as the world mourns, we better remember that Mandela was as humble as he was also resolute against injustice and unfairness; he was as generous as he also detested meanness. In this, he resembled the likes of Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel, OR Tambo and Chief Albert Mvumi Luthuli. He died aware that the struggle against inhumanity, poverty, inequality and injustice is not over. He hands over the button, for the struggle continues.

Aaaaa!!!! Dalibhunga!!!! Madiba, let your spirit of greatness live among us for centuries to come.

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