“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination” – Nelson Mandela
Thursday night, one of the world’s brightest beacons of hope finally went out. It is not often I feel emotional, but hearing the news it was difficult not to feel choked up. Any list of the greatest people of the last century would include Nelson Mandela. Such a list may include inspiring orators like Winston Churchill, incredible minds like Albert Einstein, Gandhi or even Oppenheimer, but for me the man known affectionately as Madiba is the greatest of all.
Nelson Mandela has become a global icon, a champion to the oppressed, a symbol of peace and equality, a shining example of how presence, and dignity in one individual can overcome seemingly impossible odds. The global reaction to the sad news, the outpouring of grief, the touching expressions of sympathy and tributes from almost every world leader, and many celebrities prove the high regard he was held in.
The period of sadness was momentary, as I quickly realised his life needed celebrating, and his legacy never forgotten. Watching the people of South Africa, dancing on the streets of Soweto and other townships, brought home the incredible impact his presence has made not only his own country, but the world. I wished to write My own tribute to the man, but decided to wait until some of the media furore had died away, along with some of my emotional response, allowing for considered comment.
He has been one of the most influential figures of the last century, his wise words and quotations have provided inspiration for many. He was a tough politician too, being able to make the tough decisions, and would often apparently negotiate with a steely determination, contrasting his usual conciliatory form of statesmanship.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela
This was a man who fought all his life against inequality, witnessed atrocities, suffered personal injustice and spent 27 years of his life incarcerated in the high security prison at Robben Island. Despite all of this; enduring years of hard labour and petty torment he emerged as not a man seeking revenge, not claiming his right to retribution, but hopeful of reconciliation, fighting for democracy and firmly nailing his banner to the flag of unity.
Some white South Africans still consider him a terrorist, possibly not even aware he had been a lawyer. Remembering only his involvement in acts of sabotage against the white minority ruled state government. Considering him a rabble-rouser, due to his speeches against inequality, encouraging conflict ash he drifted towards militancy when peaceful protest often ended in police brutality. They may have feared this determined activist, but what the ruling white minority of the time should really have feared was his eloquence, and his abilities as a statesman. It was these that would cause the rest of the world to answer his rallying cry, to take him as the symbol of the anti-apartheid movement, and to bring about the eventual demise of the oppressive regime.
During his period of imprisonment he became the ‘poster boy’ of the anti-apartheid movement, banners emblazoned with his name unfurled in protests around the world. World leaders, and celebrities called for his release, even becoming the subject of songs, including international hits released by global renowned music stars of the era, and performed live at major venues.
The song “Free Nelson Mandela” became the anthem of the campaign against inequality, and in typical self-effacing style he once joked that many of the international protestors, knew little about him, believing “Free” to be his Christian name.
“It always seems impossible until its done.” – Nelson Mandela
When he was eventually released in 1993, the whole world rejoiced, South Africa partied but the rest of us gate crashed the celebration.
Outside of his homeland, he’s universally praised with almost saint-like reverence, the man who could do no wrong. Within his own country his reputation may have become slightly more tarnished. His leadership style could be authoritarian at times, but necessary to bring unity to the fractious nature of South Africa, and his own party the African National Congress. Some blacks are disillusioned with the slower than expected rise to financial equality, others that he conceded to much to their former oppressors, while many older whites feel he has done little to deal with corruption and infighting of his own party.
It is his stewardship, however that carried South Africa to democracy, becoming the most prosperous African nation and not falling into civil war, which many agree was a distinct possibility. His skills as a statesman, enabled the country to emerge as a respected global power, campaigning constantly in behalf of his homeland.
“The Greatest OAP with a Criminal Record”
He also possessed unique insight, while those around him paid little importance to the rugby world cup of 1995, he alone seemed to understand it could be a catalyst for unity. When a multiracial “Springbok” team, which had been an enduring symbol of Afrikaner arrogance beat the New Zealand “All Blacks” in the final, 80,000 mainly white South Africans chanted his name. He alone seemed to have the vision to comprehend the importance this sporting tournament would play in unifying the “Rainbow Nation’’.
Madiba with typical humour, once described himself as an OAP with a criminal record; it is this down-to-earth attitude which seemed to define him. He mixed with royalty and heads of state, but always remained humble, and apparently had time to speak with those serving drinks, working in the cloakrooms, or providing security. Those present at his state visits are usually more excited having met him, rather than the presidents, prime ministers, or members of royalty which were also in attendance.
Nelson Mandela is dubbed “the father of modern South Africa”, a far cry from his own humble description. He has been integral to bringing unity, providing stability, rebuilding the national identity, and it’s global reputation. The task is not yet finished however his light may finally have dimmed, but his legacy must not; a truly unified South Africa must be the goal for his countrymen. He has passed the baton, let’s hope they all take up his challenge.
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” – Nelson Mandela