The World shivers in the cold that has engulfed its spirit since the dreaded news of Mandela’s death. Neither his advanced age nor his long illness prepared us for the pain that would come with the inevitable event.
The African Lion King, whose gentle roar buried Apartheid two decades ago, ended his long walk to the ultimate freedom from a world that hardly grasped the central message of his life’s work. We are already enduring messages of condolence from men and women, hypocrites whose abuse of power is precisely what Mandela stood against.
Africa’s autocrats and kleptocrats are fuelling their private luxury jets and piling American dollars into their brief cases in preparation for the journey to South Africa to bury a man whose ideals they have betrayed many times over.
These men, some of them more ruthless than the Apartheid rulers that Mandela fought without holding back, will bow as they file past his coffin, insulting the memory of a man who lived his words, who treated his opponents as competitors not enemies, who understood the value of diverse opinions and visions.
The African president who reflexively responds to his political opponents with tear gas, bullets, kiboko (whips) and all manner of violence will desecrate Mandela’s memory by filing past the body of a man whose life’s work centered on justice for all.
The African ruler who rigged elections and bullied the judiciary to keep him in power has no place among those who pay respects to one who spent 27 years in jail because he cherished and was prepared to die for the ideal of a democratic and free society.
The African ruler who changed the constitution so that he could succeed himself on the throne insults Mandela, a man who, walking away from power after one term, showed that he understood that his country was bigger than him.
The African ruler whose subjects wallow in grand poverty and deprivation while he and his courtiers indulge their taste for luxury, violates the memory of a man who cared more about the welfare of South Africa’s poor than his own material comfort.
Many African rulers have appropriated him where they ought to have emulated him. They take his name in vain even as they terrorize and impoverish fellow citizens. Better that they stay away from this week’s events that will honor our hero, our real champion of freedom, justice, truth and reconciliation.
Like the Sunland Baobab, the world’s largest tree, Mandela commanded our respect without seeking it. He gave moral life to a world that lacked leaders who said what they meant and meant what they said. He fought for a cause, not in search of personal glory or wealth, but to free his people – and not merely those of his race, but of all the colors that formed the South African rainbow.
Mandela did not fight alone. The success of a freedom struggle is often the handiwork of men and women who toil in anonymity, as committed and as resilient as their prominent counterparts. Mandela’s death reminds us of the great team of true revolutionaries of which, as he often emphasized, he was only a member. Not for him the business of deleting heroes from the history of a collective struggle.
Those who were arrested and charged with Mandela in the Rivonia Trial of 1963 stand very tall in the history of our continent’s struggle for freedom. Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair and Lionel Bernstein – men of courage who risked everything for the good of their people.
Two of these men were Jews, two were Indians, one was of mixed European/African blood and five were Bantu Africans. The struggle for a united and just multiracial South Africa was propelled into orbit by a multiracial team. By God’s grace, all of them lived to see the end of apartheid. Mlangeni, Goldberg and Kathrada are still alive, now in their eighties. We salute them, though we have fallen short of their ideals.
Mandela, the mortal son of Gadla Mpakanyiswa, is dead. However, those who understood him, not as some popular international figure but a force for moral strength and commitment to human rights and justice, must not let him die.
It has been a great privilege to live in his times, to witness the unimaginable change that he midwifed with nary a hint of force or deception, but with courage, independence, principle, honesty, humility, forgiveness, peace, aversion to revenge, selflessness, love for fellow humans and a healthy rejection of power for power’s sake.
The best memorial to him would be for the youth of today to gather the courage that propelled a young Mandela and his comrades to action many years ago. They gave everything in the face of a truly evil system.
Today’s youth will honour Mandela by joining the ranks of those who seek to peacefully reverse the perilous trends that prevail all over Africa, and to reclaim the continent from those who have hijacked it and are busy selling it bit by bit and abusing the rights of the citizens. Sleep well Madiba. Long live Mandela!