Since the winter of 2011 when he was hospitalised for respiratory infection, South African legend Nelson Mandela has been in and out of the hospital a couple of times. Sadly, his health took a turn for the worse during the first week of June 2013 – prompting the global community to collectively pray for his good health and speedy recovery. For millions of people around the world, Mandela is truly a global citizen. He is loved, idolised and respected by many. From China to Russia, and from Mozambique to Portugal and Chad, he has a better name recognition than anyone I can think of.
The international community has known some pretty remarkable statesmen. And along the way, we have come to know some truly great men. But rarely do we see and or get to know men who are an embodiment of greatness and all that is noble about humanity. It is rare, very rare. Without resorting to hyperbolism, one could say – and one would be correct to say that Nelson Mandela is one such man. Whether you are standing before him or sitting by his side – or watching from afar — you know you are in the company of a rarity. Adding to the sensory and mental satisfaction is the fact that he is an African.
Assuming you don’t know, or are unappreciative of his greatness, all you need do is to read and or listen to what’s being said about him since the very day he was let out of prison by Apartheid South Africa. He was originally jailed in Johannesburg’s Marshall Square prison and then to another in Pretoria, before being moved to Robben Island (1962–1982). Along with Raymond Mhlaba, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, and Andrew Mlangeni, Mandela was moved to Cape Town’s Pollsmoor Prison (1982–1988). He was later moved to Victor Verster Prison, in 1988, before being released on February 11, 1990.
While in prison, tuberculosis infected his lungs. And he has also had his gallstone removed. At almost 95, age has also taken a toll on his body. But through it all, he has remained unfazed, unbeaten and unbroken. Twenty-seven years is a long time (in prison) for any man not to be beaten and broken. And in fact, no one comes out of such long and brutal confinement without being bitter and vengeful. Not him. Not Mandela. Not this rare breed of a man. As he himself said a while back, “As I walked out of the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” He did! South Africa and the world are the better for it.
Mandela it was so said: “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying… I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way…Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” And that’s really insightful! Therefore, as we think of this great man — this giant who transcends race and colour, nationality and ideology, we must think of him, not as a saint or as an infallible human being, but as a man who went the distance to make his people and the world a better place.
And really, he was not fail-safe or beyond reproach. Mrs.Winnie Madikizela–Mandela (the second of three wives), made this clear in some of her many interviews. On March 8, 2010, for instance, she told the London Evening Standard that: “Mandela let us down. He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded.”
Winnie, as she is globally known, went on to say that: “I cannot forgive him for going to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with his jailer F.W. de Klerk. Hand in hand, they went. Do you think de Klerk released him from the goodness of his heart? “
Winnie was not done: “Look at this Truth and Reconciliation charade. He should never have agreed to it. What good does the truth do? How does it help anyone to know where and how their loved ones were killed or buried…? I am not alone. The people of Soweto are still with me. Look what they make him do. The great Mandela! He has no control or say any more. They put that huge statue of him right in the middle of the most affluent ‘white’ area of Johannesburg. Not here where we spilled our blood and where it all started.”
But of course, as Nadira Naipaul – the Pakistani journalist and wife of novelist Vidiadhar Naipaul — wrote in the London Evening Standard, “It is hard to knock a living legend. Only a wife, a lover or a mistress has that privilege. Only they are privy to the intimate inner man.”
Today, South Africa has not disintegrated. Its majority Black population – a population that was dehumanised and exploited for more than 42 years – did not lynch, or send into exile the white minority that, beginning in 1948, formulated and enacted apartheid laws. Nonetheless, this is not to say that all is well in and with South Africa. The level of poverty is awful. And of course, the society is being ravaged by other ills. And the African National Congress seems not to have lived up to its promises. Or expectations.
In the end, and in spite of the outward peace, no one has a very clear picture of what a post-Mandela South Africa would look like. However, if South Africa remains, thrives and moves towards a more perfect union, then, the dream and aspirations of Mandela would have been realised. If many around the world continue to emulate him by promoting peace and tolerance and human dignity, then, Mandela’s voice would have prevailed, in no small measure, against man’s inhumanity against man. If his ideas and ideals continue, then, his life would have been a blessing to millions of people around the world.
Although Mandela is a global icon, a global citizen, he is fundamentally an African. Here is where the pain, anguish and disappointment begin: No Nigerian nay African leader since, at least, 1990 has faithfully emulated Mandela. None! We mainly have impostors. Many are greedy, bloodthirsty, stealing, mismanaging and power hungry autocrats pretending to be saints and democrats. Consider what they have wrought on the country, and the continent and its people: wars, deaths, poverty, misrule and ethnic and religious competition. What a waste of resources and leadership. What a wasted life!