(By Onukwube Nwabufo)
“Having spent 27 agonising years in prison fighting to liberate his people from apartheid rule, he would have made himself president for life. No opposition within or outside South Africa would have arisen to challenge him. Besides, from time antiquity, political revolutionaries, after bringing political change, hold on to power forever. Power intoxicates, that is why a man, 89 years of age, somewhere in Zimbabwe, has done everything conceivable and inconceivable to a people he once liberated, just to hold on to power. But an idolised to the level of a demigod, Mandela handled power the way a seasoned artist handles a pencil. He rather intoxicates power; not the other way round.“
THE struggles of a slum dog, the survival of an antelope in the wild and the pride of a lion king summarise the life of Madiba Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela. In the beginning, Mandela didn’t show prodigy in conventional skills: Sports, music, theatre, art, science… He was rather marvelous in ability allegedly considered inappropriate by a majority; ability that will make a mother weep for her child’s safety, and a father downcast by his child’s uncontrollable stubbornness – activism. Mandela’s defiance to a magistrate’s unreasonable demand at a young age, which had him lose his job. And expulsion from University College of Forte Hare for joining in a student protest, were clear signs of his undiluted intolerance for injustice and inequality. His nature left him with no choice but to be a crusader. He would still be known for something, had he been born in a society that guarantees equal opportunities for all.
Mandela brought true miracle to South Africans, not the type given with the right hand and taken with the left. As President, Mandela would have broken the already bent South Africa by sacking the white minority or return apartheid on them. Such decision would have been justified after all. But as a man with an uncommon good sense, he knew that majority of the South Africans that would be left behind, lacked the prerequisite skills to pilot the affairs of the economy they would have inherited, thus, inflict kwashiorkor on the economy. Plus the economic sanctions from the Western world that would greet such act.
Yet again, Mandela proved himself an extraordinary being when he declined to run a legitimate second term in office as president.
Having spent 27 agonising years in prison fighting to liberate his people from apartheid rule, he would have made himself president for life. No opposition within or outside South Africa would have arisen to challenge him. Besides, from time antiquity, political revolutionaries, after bringing political change, hold on to power forever. Power intoxicates, that is why a man, 89 years of age, somewhere in Zimbabwe, has done everything conceivable and inconceivable to a people he once liberated, just to hold on to power. But an idolised to the level of a demigod, Mandela handled power the way a seasoned artist handles a pencil. He rather intoxicates power; not the other way round.
Forgiveness is always a luxury most human beings, especially powerful people, cannot afford. Events in our world have shown how nations and men full of promise were suddenly reduced to a thing of pity as a result of embarking on unnecessary revenge mission. The days of apartheid in South Africa were torturous. A lot of heinous crimes were recorded. Mandela wasn’t spared either. He was incarcerated in prison for 27 agonising years by the white minority. He was damaged physically, psychologically and emotionally while in prison. He was denied attendance in his mother’s burial. And also in his first son’s burial who was killed in a car accident. He didn’t see his sons turn into men and the daughters into women. In fact, a school of thought postulated that Mandela was neither a good father nor husband. This is because it was difficult for a black male South African during apartheid to support his family economically, talk more of a female. Therefore, Mandela’s absence from his family, due to imprisonment, did not only create a deficit of economic support to his wife and children, but also emotional support. Though the postulation is true, but with a leakage.
In spite of all that came with apartheid, Mandela, to the dismay and disappointment of most members of ANC and black South Africans, showed unconditional mercy to the perpetrators of apartheid. “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace,” he had said. He had an eagle’s vision to know that forgiveness not vengeance will guarantee peace in South Africa. He knows that peace is priceless; and any price is worth been paid for it. The calibre of Mandela cannot be mere mortals like us, but spirits. For it will take only a rare personage to show mercy on the perpetrators of apartheid. He has shown the world what selfless and visionary leadership meant; that monopoly of power is not strength neither is revenge a true victory. He has proven that the black man can handle his affairs eloquently and does not deserve pity after all.
Aside Abraham Lincoln, who went into war against his fellow countrymen to abolish the most callous practice – slavery; l don’t know of any other individual whose legacy can match Mandela’s. The iconic stretch of the apartheid hero is limitless. He is about the most popular brand, Coke, and probably Michael Jackson. He is the most decorated man alive. He is a recipient of over 250 awards, including notable ones like: the Nobel peace prize, the U.S. presidential Medal of Freedom and the last recipient of the Soviet Union’s Lenin peace prize from the Soviet Union. He was the first living person to be made an honorary Canadian citizen. His statue stands gracefully at the parliament square in London, not because he is British, not even about colour but because the statue represents freedom, justice and equality – the three ingredients that will bring everlasting peace to our world.
The trials and tribulations of Mandela would crack a solid rock, talk more of a human, yet, he was steadfast to the struggle. Through his struggle and leadership, he gave South Africans (both black and white) a shot at life. His imprint is so strong that the world could not wait for him to die before blowing his glory to high Heavens. The United Nations showed good sense by declaring Mandela’s birthday, July 18, a Mandela Day. But more needs to be done. That is why I strongly advocate that the word “Mandela” should make an entry in the dictionary to mean “superior greatness.” This is because Mandela is beyond greatness, for any individual that achieves half his achievements is already great.
Mandela is more than a political hero to me. He is everything I want to be, and I know is same for so many other people. Happy 95th birthday to the fighter, the man in whom I found a true and selfless leader.
• Nwabufo wrote from Lagos.
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