“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 needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
(Nelson Mandela: Rivonia Treason Trial, 20 April 1964)
We all knew that the time was nigh. But despite knowing, anticipating, mentally bracing – somehow nothing could truly prepare us for the loss of someone so respected, revered, and above all, loved. This has been, undeniably, a sad period for us all. For the world, for the continent of Africa, and especially for the people of South Africa.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this great man, this phenomenal icon? During our time of mourning, we also use it as a time of reflection. Reflecting about Nelson Mandela the man. Reflecting about Nelson Mandela the legacy.
Mandela, the Man
Nelson Mandela has truly earned the oft-stated comparisons between him and those other giants among men, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on 18 July, he graduated from the University of Fort Hare with a BJuris, and opened a law firm together with his friend, another great South African icon, Oliver Thambo. His period of 27 years of imprisonment began in 1964. Despite being behind bars, he continued to play an important role in ending apartheid. On his release from prison in February 1990, there was widespread fear of a black backlash. The following four years leading up to South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994 saw the continued spread of fear, rumours and general discord. Against all odds, Nelson Mandela almost single-handedly defused the simmering time-bomb that was the angry populace eager for revenge. One of his more famous acts of neutralising the situation was after the brutal assassination of Chris Hani in 1993, when he noted:
“We are a nation in mourning. Our pain and anger is real. Yet we must not permit ourselves to be provoked by those who seek to deny us the very freedom Chris Hani gave his life for.”
Nowhere is the moral fibre of this great man more evident than in the words he uttered. His fervent desire for reconciliation and healing can be found in his Presidential Inauguration speech on 10 May 1994: “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.”
However, I cannot agree with everything that Nelson Mandela believed. Because he also said:
“I don’t think there is much history can say about me.”
“It would not be right to compare me to Gandhi. None of us could equal his dedication or his humility.”
“None of us can be described as having virtues or qualities that raise him or her above others.”
While I hate to admit that this iconic man was wrong, I must beg to differ. There are not enough pages in the history books to describe his selfless deeds, the way he changed our country, our world. And while all men should, theoretically, be equal here was a man who truly deserved the respect, admiration and, indeed, worship that raised him head and shoulders above all others.
Madiba’s Dying Wish?
“I am nearing my end. I want to be able to sleep until eternity with a broad smile on my face, knowing that the youth, opinion-makers and everybody is stretched across the divide, trying to unite the nation.”
These words were uttered by the incomparable Nelson Mandela in 1996. After all he has done for this country, the sacrifices he has made, the hardships he has endured, the challenges he has overcome, I believe we owe it to him to fulfill his wish: that South Africa be united as one nation.
The man may be gone, but his legacy will live with us forever. Our beloved Madiba said in 1997, “It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered. I’d leave that entirely to South Africans.” Speaking as a South African, I will remember him as one of the greatest men that ever graced this planet.
Continued, in The Mandela Legacy Part II