Mandela At 94: More Of Him For African Countries
“No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his well being, to risk his body, to risk his life, in a great cause.” Theodore Roosevelt, 26th American President 1901-1909, Republican.
In starting this tribute on Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ex-president of the Republic of South Africa (RSA), I have to quote Professor Aliu Babatunde Fafunwa (1923-2010), one-time education minister and the first Nigerian to acquire a Ph.D. in Education in 1955. In his words, Nelson Mandela led his people out of the ‘shackles’ of Apartheid, and still forged reconciliation among the races. He had a clear and great vision for South Africa, and was able to set out and accomplish his goals. Incredibly, unlike other leaders on the continent, the great man handed over power after just one term. Imagine that happening in other African countries! He is a great leader and not the ‘accidental type’ in the words of Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, the current Catholic Bishop of Sokoto.
The Madiba (old man) has a singular leadership quality that is making oneself available, in other words, dispensability of leaders. In a continent where we have sit-tight leaders like immediate past president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, former Libya’s strong-man, Muammar Gadafi, the late Omar Bongo of Gabon, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, among many others, Mandela demonstrated that it was not how far, but how well power is used to uplift the society. His one-term of five years tenure (1994-1999) as the president of a non-racial, democratic Republic offers lessons in leadership for African countries. In 1996, two years after he assumed power, he said “I must step down when there are one or two people who admire me.”
Jerry Long Fellow once said: “The heights that great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.” The Holy Bible in Proverbs Chapter 22, verse 20 also says “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.” The above quotations could be said to be apt in describing Nelson Mandela, a quintessential leader and administrator par excellence.
In the dark days of apartheid in South Africa, he remained fearless, refusing to be cowed in silence. No doubt, Mandela believed in the words of Harry S. Truman, 33rd American Democrat president (1945-1953) when he said and I quote “Do your duty and history will do you justice”. Through exemplary aptitude, Nelson Mandela contributed immensely to the growth of the people of the Republic of South Africa. His fearless defence in the case of South Africa stands him out. He is a man of his words and a man of truth.
At 94, he has proved himself as a leader with boundless energy, sharp and probing intellectual capacity and great patriot. A living legend and man of honour and worth, Nelson Mandela remains a true captain who will not abandon a ship even when about to sink. He is a distinguished leader and rare gem, a man of character, outstanding scholar, urbane democrat, a humanist, citizen of the world, fearless defender of the masses, advocate of justice, equity and fair play.
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, South Africa. A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (NPP) and the first black president of South Africa, Mandela became a world symbol of resistance to the injustice of his country’s apartheid system.
Imprisoned for more than 27years, and before that banned from all public activities and hounded by the police for nearly a decade, Mandela led a struggle for freedom that mirrored that of his black countrymen. After his 1990 release from the Robben Island Prison, his work to end apartheid won him the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize (which he shared with then South African president, F. W. De Klerk) and then the presidency itself a year later.
Mandela’s father, Chief Henry Mandela, was a member of the Thembu people’s royal lineage; his mother was one of the chief’s four wives. Mandela grew up in Qunu, a small village in the Eastern Cape. At age seven, he became the first member of his family to attend school. When his father died two years later, Nelson, the Christian name he had acquired at school, was sent to live with Chief Jongintab Dalindyedo, the regent, or supreme leader, of the Thembu people. From the regent, Mandela said, he learned that “a leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting most nimble go on ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind”.
When he arrived in Johannesburg in 1941, Mandela was jobless. As a result, he found work assisting a lawyer, a job arranged by activist Walter Sisulu, while finishing his bachelor’s degree by correspondence from the University of South Africa. His political education continued, as he met members of the Communist Party of South Africa and, more important, the African National Congress (ANC). Of his decision to join the ANC in 1943, Mandela later wrote that he was motivated by “no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights.” Not quite long, Mandela and a group of fellow ANC members including Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo (with whom Mandela formed South Africa’s first black –run law firm), founded the ANC Youth League.
When, in 1960, the government banned the ANC outright in the wake of the police massacre of demonstrators in Sharpville township, Mandela, at this point, decided that “it was wrong and immoral to subject his people to armed attacks by the state without allowing them some kind of alternative.” As a result, in 1961, he went underground and he helped create the ANC’s parliamentary wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (spear of the nation), which carried out acts of sabotage against the government.
Captured in August 1962, Mandela was charged with travelling outside the country without a passport and inciting workers to strike. At his trial, he acted as his own lawyer, arguing not that he was innocent but rather that the South African government had used the law “to impose a state of outlawry” upon him. Several months into his five-year sentence, Mandela was charged with treason and in 1964 was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
From whichever perspective Nelson Mandela’s career is assessed, the virtues of consistency, sincerity of purpose, courage of conviction, utmost selflessness and doggedness in pursuing the people’s cause cannot be denied. Even those who may have cause to disagree with some of his actions and pronouncements cannot deny that his commitment to the realisation of the common good is total.
I wish the great leader many more years of worthy contributions to the development of the Republic of South Africa and the human community in general. This is because he has been a tower of strength, a beacon of hope and a giant among men and leaders alike.
Charles Ikedikwa Soeze wrote in from Effurun, Delta State, Nigeria.Share