People & Power
Who else is in Mandela’s league?
Posted Sunday, December 15 2013 at 02:00
For more than a week, the world has been paying tribute to former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela. The Sunday Monitor’s Charles Mwanguhya Mpagi looks at some of the past leaders who could be in the same league as Madiba. The numbering below does not necessarily imply the order of excellence of the personalities.
All possible superlatives have already been exhausted in the description of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5 after a long battle with a lung infection.
The iconic leader is to be laid to rest today in his birth place of Qunu in what friend and former anti-apartheid fighter Cyril Ramaphosa called the end of Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom—the title of Mr Mandela ‘s autobiography.
US President Barack Obama said at the memorial on Tuesday “we will never see the likes of Mandela again.” He described him as a “giant of history.”
Mr Onapito Ekomoloit, a veteran journalist and former press secretary to President Museveni described Mandela as a “man of two centuries.” Several other figures have over the week combed corners of their memory to find the right words to describe Mandela, who spent the first half of his life fighting white domination and obnoxious system of apartheid, 27 years in jail, five in power as his country’s first black president (from 1994 to 1999) and retired from public life after another 10 years and the last eight suffering increasingly failing health.
But did Mandela play in his own league or are there men and women, who even if they did not reach the very top of greatness and influence of Mandela could be described as close enough to claim a place in his Hall of Fame? Who are they? And what of those who got close and for one reason or the other failed to reach the pinnacle or squandered their opportunity?
1. Nelson Mandela (1918—2013, South Africa)
In physic Mandela stood tall and was a giant by just that description, in birth he was born royal, in knowledge he stood out and graduated as a lawyer. He was born at a time white South Africans were tightening their grip on that country applying tougher measures to further subjugate the native black people.
To that end the environment also suited Mandela’s rise to greatness. Enduring nearly three decades in jail at the notorious Pacific Ocean detention facility of Robben Island, Mr Mandela secured his unrivalled place in history when he came out of prison to preach love rather than hate; reconciliation in the place of revenge and his acknowledgement that in a first globalising world seeking exclusion instead of inclusion and accepting one another as people transcended any bitterness to move the country forward.
He engraved this place by showing a rare sense of humility once he completed the transition from prisoner to president and embarrassed thousands of leaders when instead of hanging onto power given his country’s unique circumstances and his own contribution, handed over just after one fiver-year term.
Out of the presidency he spent 10 years using his global fame to promote causes he had failed to accomplish as president, raising money for charitable causes like HIV/Aids and preaching global peace.
He reached out to world pariahs living the promise of being truly non-aligned. With this, his high place in history was sealed.
2. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948, India)
Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, he championed India’s resistance to British colonialism and is the champion of non-violent civil disobedience in the struggle for freedom.
Trained as a lawyer, Gandhi, started his struggle against British colonial domination in South Africa, among the Indian communities of that country where he worked as an expat lawyer between 1893 until 1914 when he transferred his efforts back to his home country at least four years before Mandela was born.
He fought for India’s independence and was assassinated in 1948 but the legacy he left has been seen as a guiding light to India, the world’s largest democracy to this day. Though inequality remains, Gandhi’s place in history was guaranteed.
3.Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jnr. (1929-1968, USA)
Born Michael King, his father changed his name in honour of the German reformer Martin Luther, and indeed he was not to be disappointed as King Junior grew to become the most outstanding icon of the black emancipation struggle in the United States.