Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

December 12, 2013
4 mins read

When SKYNEWS interrupted programming last Thursday night to bring a live event, and I saw South African President, Jacob Zuma appear on screen, the journalist in me instinctively guessed that Nelson Mandela had passed. A moment later the fact was confirmed.

It was clear that a major phase in world history was closing with the death of a man who joined the ANC Youth League in 1946 and would eventually become the first commander-in-chief of UMKHONTO WE SIZWE (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the African National Congress, Africa’s oldest national liberation movement.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela belonged to a most talented generation of South African revolutionaries: Walter Sisulu, Peter Mda, Duma Nokwe and Oliver Tambo, amongst others, who took the liberation movement literally, by the scruff of the neck, and radicalised the struggle against apartheid. They adopted a PROGRAMME OF ACTION in 1949, which pledged the achievement of freedom in their lifetime.

Through one of the most difficult struggles of the Twentieth Century, they achieved that freedom. American President, Barack Obama was right, when he described Mandela as the last of the liberation heroes of the Twentieth Century.

By common agreement today, that century has been described as the most disturbed in human history. Yet, Nelson Mandela and his comrades, understood their historical roles and gave their all to achieve their dreams.

There is a fundamental connection between the struggles against apartheid and colonialism in Southern Africa and the conscientisation of people of my generation.

First, were the wars of liberation in Mozambique and Angola led by FRELIMO in Mozambique and MPLA in Angola.

African revolutionaries like Eduardo Mondlane, SamoraMachel and AugustinhoNeto touched the hearts of African youth about the radical possibilities of defeating colonialism and building a new life in their countries. The South African struggle had a different level of resonance.

These were English-speaking revolutionaries who not only built the ANC, but had in their ranks many leading members of the South African Communist Party such as Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Mabhida, Ruth First and Joe Slovo. The party published THE AFRICAN COMMUNIST, described as a journal of Marxist-Leninist thought on the African continent.

We avidly read the journal along with SECHABA, the ANC journal and other publications of the liberation movement. We were organizing in the underground Marxist-Leninist Movement of Nigeria as well as several other leftwing and students/youth organisations on campuses around the country.

There was no Chinese wall dividing activist work in the anti-apartheid movement and work in the communist underground. And several hours of discussion and debate with leading cadres of these liberation movements accredited to Nigeria, helped clarify many issues about organisational and theoretical work.

At a point, I went to Lagos almost monthly in the early 1980s, and I would stay in the ANC residence inside the 1004 Housing Estate.

ANC’s Chief Representative was Mark Shope, who was one of the defendants during theRivonia Trial, and had been a trade union leader and communist. He became one of the most inspiring individuals in my life. He was forever telling me stories about Nelson Mandela.

By the middle of the 1980s, I was presenting a weekly programme on Radio Kwara, dedicated to deepening awareness about the anti-apartheid struggle; and that was one of the most productive phases of my professional life as a radio broadcaster.

I was doing something that accorded with my consciousness as a communist, a pan- Africanist and patriot. By the time Nelson Mandela was released, whole generations of Africans and non-Africans alike had been won over completely in support of the struggle against racism, apartheid and colonialism.

And I think the remarkable genius of Mandela was to develop the generosity of heart which facilitated the ambience to create a multi-racial country where the entire community seemed to have risen above the pains and prejudices which had characterised their country in the centuries before the dismantling of the apartheid machinery.

Not only did Mandela and his movement stay with their vow to build a country that belonged to all its peoples, Black and White, they also taught the world the meaning of compassion and forgiveness in a way that only Africans could have!

What is most remarkably absurd has been the outpouring of tributes by leaders in many parts of the continent who have refused to borrow a leaf from the sense of responsibility which Mandela exemplified. An elaborate kleptocracy such as Nigeria has become, has been the scene of some of those hypocritical outpourings of tribute.

Leaders who have instituted one of the most unjust and most unequal societies in the world today in Nigeria, have fallen upon themselves to shed crocodile tears over the passing of Nelson Mandela.

They seemed to have been lost to the irony that they are everything that Nelson Mandela stood against in his lifetime of service to the people. Mandela was forged within the conditions of the revolutionary struggles for national liberation during the Twentieth Century.

He was therefore a man of his times who gave his all to the achievement of the goals set by history. But he has transcended his times because his exemplary life might not be recreated in the conditions of the world of today. However, political leaders and individuals can find inspiration in his commitment to give of themselves the very best in the interest of their people and of humanity.

In the end, I think that the compassion which drove Mandela into struggle and beyond, has very much been on display in the whole world since his passing; but more so inside the rainbow country that he led into liberation.

When South Africans of all races and creeds gathered to express their sense of loss as well as celebrate the life of the father of their country, they expressed in concrete terms the success of the liberation struggle and the institution of Mandela’s dream of building a country for all its peoples. With hindsight, it must be very ridiculous, even to the most dyed-in-wool racist that all people share the same humanity and discrimination on the basis of colour, ethnicities or confession, go against the best of our humanity.

We have all been lucky to share the world with Nelson Mandela as well as enjoy the inspiration which his exemplary life taught all of humanity. Nelson Mandela’s example will endure through the ages.

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