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The world is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela http://www.afripol.org/afripol/item/1492-on-nelson-mandela.html. Some are also reflecting on his achievements and failures. One of the most controversial points of discussion is Mandela’s actions over South Africa’s AIDS crisis. One of the biggest criticisms leveled against Mandela is that he was silent over AIDS in the crucial years before and just as it became a pandemic in South Africa.
It is difficult to deny that, on the one hand, HIV infection rate statistics reveal that the virus exploded under Mandela’s watch. In 1990 as little as 0.2% of the South African population was infected with HIV. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa. Two years later the infection rate had risen to 3%. By the time Mandela left office in 1999, the number of HIV-infected South Africans, at 10% of the population, had clearly spiraled out of control. Today the number of HIV/AIDS cases in South Africa is around 6.1 million, or around 12% of the total population. It is more prevalent among the adult population, with over 18% of people infected. Moreover, the death rate is estimated to be 240,000, which has left 2.5 million South African children as orphans.
There are many theories that may explain why so little was done in response to HIV/AIDS during the Mandela presidency. Many believe that the stigma associated with HIV- as a virus primarily spread through unprotected sexual intercourse- prevented the South African leadership from speaking out about it. Others have suggested that, with South Africa just emerging from Apartheid and the South African economy and welfare at the forefront of political discussions, the mystery virus, which people still knew relatively little about, just was not on the priority list.
Mandela has also been criticized for his “silence” when his successor, Thabo Mbeki, made public statements, which have been widely interpreted as AIDS denialism <http://www.csicop.org/si/show/aids_denialism_vs._science>. Mbeki was heavily influenced by a clique of academics who argued against the link between HIV and AIDS. One of the most prominent was Peter Duisberg, Professor of Medicine and Cell Biology at Berkeley, California. Duisberg argued that HIV was a symptom not a cause of AIDS and AIDS had multiple causes, including drug use, promiscuous homosexual sex and malnutrition. Of course, in fact, as STD Panels points out, AIDS “starts as HIV, a condition which begins to attack cells within the human body”<http://www.stdpanels.com/information-links/the-dangers-of-sharing-needles-aids-and-hepatitis/>.
In the late 1990s, echoes of Duisberg’s argument could be heard in Mbeki’s words as he addressed South African television audiences questioning whether HIV and AIDS were linked. He also suggested that HIV could be cured through home remedies rather than expensive Western anti-retroviral drugs. Mandela did not publicly contradict these claims.
*Breaking the silence*
Mandela did start to speak up about AIDS as South Africa moved into the 21st century, however. An international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, was a watershed. At that conference, Thabo Mbeki made a famous speech, claiming that AIDS was linked to poverty: “One of the consequences of this crisis is the deeply disturbing phenomenon of the collapse of immune systems among millions of our people, such that their bodies have no natural defense against attack by many viruses and bacteria,” he said.
“Clearly, if we, as African countries, had the level of development to enable us to gather accurate statistics about our own countries, our morbidity and mortality figures would tell a story that would truly be too frightening to contemplate. As I listened and heard the whole story told about our own country, it seemed to me that we could not blame everything on a single virus,” Mbeki went on.
When it was Mandela’s turn to speak, he was subtly critical of this view; he referred to an argument that was taking attention away "from the real life-and-death issues we are confronted with as a country, a region, a continent and a world", an argument which Mandela claimed should be put aside. Although Mandela praised Mbeki he also called for the use of anti-retroviral drugs to prevent the transmission of AIDS from mothers to their children. Mandela’s decision to speak up proved a game-changer for South Africa. From then on, the Mbeki government quietened its reservations about HIV and the use anti-retroviral drugs. A treatment strategy was agreed and some treatment drugs began to drip into the public health sector.
Towards the end of his life, AIDS became the only subject that Mandela would accept invitations to speak on. He also set up the charity 46664, named after his prison number on Robben Island. Mandela was a co-chair on the advisory board of the International Aids Trust. Mandela also told the world that his son, Makgatho, had died of AIDS in January 2005 aged 54, which many have interpreted as a deliberate attempt to combat the silence and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
According to a Harvard University report<http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/11/south-african-aids-policy-tied-to-330000-lives-lost/>, AIDS denialism under the Mbeki government between 2000 and 2005 cost at least 330,000 South African lives. The number of deaths due to the lack of action taken when Mandela was President remains unknown. What is clear, however, is that Mandela still played a pivotal role in pushing for anti-retroviral and combating the stigma against AIDs in South Africa at the turn of the century. With millions of South Africans living with the disease today, and South Africa also struggling to get to grips with numerous social and economic problems, Mandela embodies the important lesson that it is never too late to do what is right.
From the outset, I must offer an apology for the grave moral offense of seeming to bracket the late sage, Nelson Mandela, with Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan. In a way, the decision was not mine, but Mr. Obasanjo’s.
Last week, the former Nigerian president apparently leaked a letter he had written to President Jonathan. The timing of the leak was in bad form: the same week that South Africans and the world were mourning – celebrating – Madiba Mandela, a man who came to define extraordinary grace and a deeply human vision for our time. Like the rest of the world, Nigerians were engaged in the lofty business of honoring a truly elegant man when Mr. Obasanjo’s letter made its rude interjection. The letter seemed calculated to force Nigerians to abandon a sublime purpose – the extolling of a man who epitomized greatness – in order to obsess over a certified hypocrite’s delusions of moral authority.
Stripped of its verbosity, Mr. Obasanjo’s letter boiled down to this: that Mr. Jonathan was incompetent, dishonest, in thrall to clannish (Ijaw) interests, and deadly. Some of the former president’s specific accusations are that Nigeria’s incumbent president was running a political shop rife with corruption; that, beyond the deployment of troops, Mr. Jonathan had failed to come up with a broad plan for containing the festering scourge of Boko Haram terrorism; that Mr. Jonathan was trying to sidestep an ostensible pact not to seek a second term as president; that, in pursuit of said second term, Mr. Jonathan had kindled the embers of Ijaw militancy and groomed killer squads to take out perceived and real enemies; that Mr. Jonathan, though propelled into office by the Peoples Democratic Party, had brought nothing but misfortune to the ruling party, often working against the PDP’s interests by secretly boosting candidates of rival parties in several elections, including the recent governorship election in Anambra; that, instead of bringing together different factions within the PDP, Mr. Jonathan had compounded the fissures within the party; and that Mr. Jonathan seemed bent on sacrificing democratic norms to his selfish political interests.
Mr. Obasanjo’s letter invoked Thomas Paine, Chinua Achebe and others. It played up the words honor and trust, which he accused Mr. Jonathan of lacking, implying that the incumbent was versed in duplicity and deception.
Being no reader of minds, I don’t feel up to the task of revealing the former president’s motive. Was he seized by envy on witnessing the global gushing of (richly deserved) adulation for Mandela? The former president titled his letter, “Before It Is Too Late”. Was the title self-referential, in other words, did it express Mr. Obasanjo’s rising anxiety that time was running out for him to project himself as something of a midget-Mandela, a miniaturized, Nigerian-made version of the real Madiba? With newspapers and people around the world quoting some of Mandela’s memorable speeches, did Obasanjo, in an access of grandeur, imagine that his letter could have the same fascinating effect on (at least) Nigerians? Was it something even baser, a realization, say, that he and his acolytes had lost out in the internecine battle for the benighted soul of the PDP?
Only Mr. Obasanjo can tell the inmost reason that nudged him to write the leaked letter. But I’m willing to guess, based on Mr. Obasanjo’s all-too recent record, that he was not actuated by a desire to promote good governance or deepen democratic values.
Yet, we must give the former president his due. Some of the particulars in his charge sheet are right on target. President Jonathan has been unable to contain the threat of Boko Haram terrorism. He has not developed a good, much less a bold, program for tackling Nigeria’s myriad crises, including a scary healthcare sector, a collapsed educational system, and wretched infrastructure. He’s just another confounded resident of Aso Rock, a man occupying the space of president and commander-in-chief, without being able to rise nobly to the challenge of the office.
That conceded, it ought to be pointed out that there is not – there should not be – a feud between Mr. Jonathan and former President Obasanjo. As I argued in a column a few months ago, the former is the latter’s worthy successor. Reading the former president’s lengthy public letter, one often had the sensation of reading an autobiographical account of Mr. Obasanjo’s years at Aso Rock Villa.
Obasanjo’s Presidency was so thoroughly committed to the promotion of criminality that I nicknamed the man mischief-maker-in-chief. Lest we forget, Mr. Obasanjo was a callous president. In 2002, more than 1000 people perished when explosions rocked the Ikeja military cantonment. When the grief-stricken victims demanded a decisive response from Mr. Obasanjo, the then president insensitively told them off. “I’m not supposed to be here,” he told the hapless, shell-shocked survivors.
Mr. Obasanjo was a model of cynicism as president. In the early days of his Presidency, he started what he called a so-called “poverty alleviation” program, putting Tony Anenih in charge of disbursing billions of naira. When critics pointed out that the fund had not alleviated poverty in any way, Mr. Obasanjo then increased the funds significantly and launched a “poverty eradication” scheme. Nobody knows where all the cash went.
Lest we forget, Mr. Obasanjo was the president who authorized the wholesale massacres of the people of Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State.
Let’s not forget too soon that Mr. Obasanjo empowered Lamidi Adedibu to operate like a parallel (and more powerful) “Governor” of Oyo State. When Governor Rasheed Ladoja refused to surrender some cash to Mr. Adedibu, the latter – whom Obasanjo flattered as “commander” – mobilized police officers and invaded Government House. Governor Ladoja was to scamper away to safety.
Let’s not forget, too, that Mr. Obasanjo also looked the other way as some two hundred police officers stormed Anambra State and abducted then Governor Chris Ngige. Incidentally, Mr. Obasanjo’s ruling had used rigging to impose Ngige as governor. Why, then, the desperation to sack the governor? Mr. Ngige incurred the president’s wrath by refusing to do the bidding of a coterie close to Mr. Obasanjo. Many Nigerian groups voiced outrage at the use of police officers to commit a serious crime. They insisted that the abductors and their sponsors be prosecuted. But Mr. Obasanjo characterized the felonious act as a mere quarrel within the family, case closed! A few months later, police officers escorted lorry loads of hired hoodlums as they swept through Anambra State burning any state government-owned property in sight. The plan was to instigate a bloodbath in order to offer Mr. Obasanjo the perfect pretext to declare a state of emergency and remove the obstinate governor.
Mr. Obasanjo promised Nigerians, on his honor, to bring to an end the days of incessant electric power outages. He set a promise-delivery date of December 31, 2001, and set up a technical task force to effectuate his pledge. He poured between $10 and $16 billion into what was, in effect, a scam. Once the deadline arrived, Nigerians realized that they had been conned. If anything, power failures have worsened.
Have Nigerians forgotten how Mr. Obasanjo tried to change the Nigerian constitution in order to grant himself perpetual tenancy as president? When that illicit plan was thwarted, the former president virtually imposed the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as the ruling party’s candidates. Mr. Yar’Adua was deathly sick, but Mr. Obasanjo insisted he was a picture of vibrant health. Mr. Jonathan had had a nondescript run as governor of Bayelsa State. Yet, the former president advertised the tag team of Yar’Adua-Jonathan as the only ones in Nigeria’s political universe worthy of succeeding him, continuing his legacy as a self-styled “father of modern Nigeria.” Declaring the 2011 elections a “do-or-die” affair, he did everything to compel Nigerians, like it or not, to accept his anointed successors.
One member of the tag team spent more time tending to his health woes than to the affairs of state, and soon died. The other, Jonathan, is clearly overwhelmed by the demands of statecraft. And here we have Obasanjo, a shameless manipulator if ever there was one, the manufacturer of the defective goods, strutting about the stage denouncing the mess he chiefly authored.
Somebody ought to shoo Mr. Obasanjo off the stage. He must leave us in peace to focus on a true leader – Madiba Nelson Mandela – a while longer!
Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe
Dr. Okey Ndibe is a social critic and first rate public intellectual.
The complete transcript of U.S. President Barack Obama's speech at Nelson Mandela's memorial on Tuesday, December 10, 2013.
To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government, past and present; distinguished guests -- it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other.
To the people of South Africa -- people of every race and walk of life -- the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.
It is hard to eulogize any man -- to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person -- their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone's soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.
Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe -- Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century.
Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement -- a movement that at its start held little prospect of success. Like King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War.
Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would -- like Lincoln -- hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. Like America's founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations -- a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.
Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men.
But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I'm not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."
It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection, because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carrie, that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood -- a son and husband, a father and a friend.
That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what's possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.
Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, "a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness" from his father.
Certainly he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, "a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments ... a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people."
But like other early giants of the ANC -- the Sisulus and Tambos -- Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand up for their dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price.
"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination," he said at his 1964 trial. "I've cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don't. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper's bullet.
He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.
Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the apartheid regime that, "prisoners cannot enter into contracts."
But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.
Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa -- Ubuntu - that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.
We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small - introducing his jailers as honored guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a springbok uniform; turning his family's heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS - that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding.
He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves. It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba's passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?
It is a question I ask myself as a man and as a President. We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people -- known and unknown -- to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle.
But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important.
For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.
We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.
There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
The questions we face today -- how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war -- do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu.
Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows us that is true. South Africa shows us we can change. We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.
We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world -- you can make his life's work your own. Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me.
It woke me up to my responsibilities -- to others, and to myself -- and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength -- for his largeness of spirit -- somewhere inside ourselves.
And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach -- think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
What a great soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa.
When we were young growing up, a male child was born to a man in the neighbourhood. At the naming ceremony, the man gave the first and second names of his son as Nelson Mandela respectively. I couldn't really comprehend why the man had to go that far, but now I very much do.
Since President Jacob Zuma of South Africa announced the passing away of the first black South African president on Thursday night, there have been torrents of reactions eulogizing the anti-aparthied crusader. Mandela's death at age 95 provoked so much reaction to the extent that Nigeria declared three days of national mourning in honour of the late global Icon.
I wonder if there is any other thing that can be said to extol Late Mandela that have not been said by the Barack Obamas, Stephen Harpers and Ban Ki-moons of this world. In all these, I just wish that our leaders will learn that life isn't really about how much wealth you leave behind but it's more about the legacies you bequeathed to humanity.
I think the British Prime Minister, David Cameron got it wrong when while expressing his grief on twitter wrote: "A great light has gone out in the world" No, the light has not gone out for it still burns in the life of every aficionado of Mandela. Let our youths and all those aspiring for leadership chronicle the live of Madiba and make it their handbook. That way, they'll show the Mandela light as burning in them.
The board and staff of Africa political and Economic Strategic Center (Afripol) deeply mourned the departure of Nelson Mandela, the 20th century greatest freedom fighter and the first democratically elected president of the free South Africa.
Emeka Chiakwelu, Principal Policy Strategist at Afripol, appraised the departed leader as a gift to geo-political world; Chiakwelu reiterated, “Mandela is the greatest icon of 20th century and the father of modern peaceful negotiations and peacemaking in the world.”
But as we mourn the death of the Great Nelson Mandela, simultaneously we are celebrating his worthy life and achievements that have impacted affirmatively not only in Africa but the worldwide over. The difference he brought to the world cannot be overemphasized as he took the challenge and the mantle to set his home country South Africa free from the bondage of injustice, racism and hatred.
Even with toils and vestiges of apartheid, Great Mandela was not intimidated and never shy away from carrying the burden and yoke of the evil system that apartheid has brought to the people of South Africa. After spending nearly 28 years of imprisonment in the famous Robben Island, he chose not to be bitter. Yes, it was a chosen decision not to be colored with bitterness and rancor. He was not blinded with anger, repercussion and retaliation. He rose against the urge to payback and reciprocates, instead with calm, collection and dignity that were rarely seen in our mundane and fast fleeing humanity he chose to forgive, love and move forward.
Nelson Mandela was the greatest icon of 20th century for he showed us that violence was not the path to peace making as most of the geo-political titans of history were inclined to. The path to everlasting, enduring and sustaining peace can be negotiated and be born-out of peaceful negotiation, concord and consolidating alliance rooted in respect and trust.
Nobody is saying that Madiba as he affectionately called by his close friends and kinsmen was perfect and a saint. Mandela had his flaws just like any other human beings but his special quality lies in distinguishing between the grain and chaff, when to give in and when to hold his fist tight. His greatness lies in his understanding of the psychology of freedom, how to empower the victim and perpetrator without alienating each other. Mandela was magical on bringing the perpetrators of the apartheid to the table of negotiation without preconceive notion on both sides but with fairness and justice as a bedrock.
Another great intellectual and metaphysical makeup of Mandela was his understanding of the politics of race and domination. He knew and comprehended that the white minority South Africans were also victims of the evil system of apartheid. This might be hard to rationalize, being a victim and perpetrator at same time. Mandela knew that white minority were victim of fear and held on to the discredited system out of fear, uncertainty and greed. A leader must be able to counterbalance and neutralize fear with credibility and truth, Mandela was the man that brought to the table the credibility and fairness.
Nelson Mandela has set a powerful example for us and posterity with his exemplary and heroic life. To keep his legacy evergreen the task of the living is to sustain his achievements by protecting them with vigilance and commitment especially for the next generation.
The day is finally here Madiba,
the agonizing wait is over, as you take your final bow
If man-made medicine could add
one-more year, we would have given it to you
If another warm blanket will give
you succor, we would have given it to you
But alas, we watched as your
fiery eagle-wings lowered for the final descent
Yes, we watched as the fervent lion
lowered its gaze, and the flags lowered in unison
We watched as the brave one
prepared for the inevitable nightfall
Tonight, your mighty princely
walk will not spring forth
Yes, your wizened gray will not
comfort us, as it used to
Before you Madiba, we thought we
knew it all, our rage very justified
But your indomitable spirit dealt
the blow for us, as “apartheid” lay in a heap
We marveled as “apartheid” came down
swiftly, with a mighty blow of conscience
Your job is done now Madiba, and we
can see you wink from above, as we wipe tears of gratitude
You are still a prince, a king, a
president, a prophet, and a warrior; and we will not forget that forever!
S. Okey Mbonu is the Executive Director and CEO of Washington, DC based Nigerian-American Leadership Council
December 6, 2013, Washington,
DC, USA, Copyright Reserved
A statue of Nelson Mandela, former South African president was unveiled in Washington, D.C., outside the South African Embassy on Saturday, September 21st, 2013. The site of Mandela's statue was where four protesters were arrested in 1984 that eventually spurred anti-apartheid sanctions against South Africa in America.
South African artist Jean Doyle sculptured the 3 meter statue from the picture of Mandela as he was leaving South African prison after 27 years of incarceration with his fist held triumphantly in the air as sign of Black solidarity and resistant to injustice. The statue is also a replica of the one situated outside the gates of Drakenstein Correctional Centre in South Africa, a last bus stop, from where Mandela regain his freedom.
At the base of the statue was a quote from Mandela's address to United States joint session of Congress in 1990 after his release from prison. It reads:
"The stand you took established... that here we have friends... fighters against racism who feel hurt because we are hurt, who seek our success because they too seek the victory of democracy over tyranny. I speak... of the millions of people throughout this great land who stood up and engaged the apartheid system in struggle. Let us keep our arms locked together so that we form a solid phalanx against racism... Let us ensure that justice triumphs without delay."
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!
GATHERING valedictory material on Nelson Mandela as he faded in a Pretoria hospital the other day, I came across a little book called “Mandela’s Way.” In this 2010 volume, Rick Stengel, the ghostwriter of Mandela’s autobiography, set out to extract “lessons on life, love and courage” he had learned from three years of immersion in Mandela’s life.
Stengel, who is the managing editor of Time magazine, could not resist comparing his hero to another tall, serene, hope-bearing son of Africa: Barack Obama.
“Obama’s self-discipline, his willingness to listen and to share credit, his inclusion of his rivals in his administration, and his belief that people want things explained, all seem like a 21-century version of Mandela’s values and persona,” he wrote. “Whatever Mandela may or may not think of the new American president, Obama is in many ways his true successor on the world stage.”
A bit much, yes? Well, Stengel was hardly alone back then in awarding the American president a stature he had scarcely begun to earn. The Nobel Committee, which had awarded its peace prize to Mandela for ending the obscenity of apartheid, bestowed that honor on Obama merely for not being George W. Bush.
Different men, different countries, different times. Perhaps even Mandela — who was more successful liberating South Africa than governing it — could not have lived up to the inflated expectations heaped on Obama. But it is interesting to imagine how Obama’s presidency might be different if he had in fact done it Mandela’s way.
Mandela, in his time on the political stage, was a man of almost ascetic self-discipline. But he also understood how to deploy his moral authority in grand theatrical gestures. Facing capital charges of trying to overthrow the state in the Rivonia Trial, he entered the formal Pretoria courtroom dressed in a traditional Xhosa leopard-skin cape to dramatize that he was an African entering a white man’s jurisdiction. And then he essentially confessed to the crime.
In 1995, Mandela, newly elected president of a still deeply divided country, single-handedly turned the Rugby World Cup — the whitest sporting event in South Africa, long the target of anti-apartheid boycotts — into a festival of interracial harmony. He was, in short, the opposite of “no drama.”
Obama’s sense of political theater peaked at his first inaugural. He rarely deploys the stirring reality that he is the first black man to hold the office. As my Times colleague Peter Baker notes, “Obama’s burden as he sees it, different from Mandela’s, is to make the fact that he’s black be a nonissue. Only then will his breakthrough be truly meaningful.” Still, I think Mandela would have sought a way to make a more exciting civic bond out of the pride so many Americans felt in this milestone.
Mandela understood that politics is not mainly a cerebral sport. It is a business of charm and flattery and symbolic gestures and eager listening and little favors. It is above all a business of empathy. To help win over the Afrikaners, he learned their Dutch dialect and let them keep their national anthem. For John Boehner, he’d have learned golf and become a merlot drinker. “You don’t address their brains,” Mandela advised his colleagues, and would surely advise Obama. “You address their hearts.”
Mandela was a consummate negotiator. Once he got you to the bargaining table, he was not going to leave empty-handed. He was an expert at deducing how far each side could go. He was patient. He was opportunistic, using every crisis to good effect. He understood that half the battle was convincing your own side that a concession could be a victory. And he was willing to take a risk. I don’t envy Obama’s having to deal with intransigent Republicans or his own demanding base, but Mandela bargained with Afrikaner militants, Zulu nationalists and the white government that had imprisoned him for 27 years. By comparison, the Tea Party is, well, a tea party.
Mandela usually seemed to be having the time of his life. Perhaps this is because (sadly for his family) the movement was his life. He shook every hand as if he was discovering a new friend and maintained a twinkle in his eye that said: this is fun. We’ve had joyful presidents — Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan. Obama more often seems to regard the job as an ordeal.
Mandela, above all, had a clear sense of his core principles: freedom, equality, the rule of law. He changed tactics, shifted alliances (one day the Communist Party, another day the business oligarchs) but never lost sight of the ultimate goal. In fairness to Obama, Mandela had a cause of surpassing moral clarity. The American president is rarely blessed with problems so, literally, black and white. And if Obama leaves behind universal health care and immigration reform — two initiatives that have consistently defeated previous presidents — that will be no small legacy. But tell me, do you have a clear sense of what moral purpose drives our president?
Bill Keller is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times and writes for The New York Times Magazine. His column appears on Mondays. From July 2003 until September 2011, he was the executive editor of The Times, presiding over the newsroom during a time of journalistic distinction, economic challenge, and transformation. During his eight years in that role, The Times sustained and built its formidable newsgathering staff, winning 18 Pulitzer Prizes, and expanded its audience by mastering the journalistic potential of the Internet. The newsroom also participated in the creation of a digital subscription plan to help secure the company’s economic future.
Mr. Keller was succeeded by Jill Abramson, a former investigative reporter and Washington bureau chief who had been one of his two top deputies since 2003. Before becoming executive editor, Mr. Keller had spent two years as a senior writer for The New York Times Magazine and an Op-Ed columnist. He served as managing editor from 1997 to September 2001 after having been the newspaper’s foreign editor from June 1995 to 1997. As chief of The Times bureau in Johannesburg from April 1992 until May 1995, he covered the end of white rule in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela was in critical condition Sunday after a deterioration in his health, and doctors "are doing everything possible'' for him, South Africa's government said.
The office of President Jacob Zuma said that on Sunday evening the president had visited Mandela, the former president of the country who was imprisoned for nearly three decades as he battled the country's apartheid system of racial separatism.
Zuma's office said he was informed by Mandela's doctors that his condition had become critical in the past 24 hours.
Mandela, 94, has been in intensive care for more than two weeks. He was hospitalized on June 8 for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
"The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well-looked after and is comfortable,'' Zuma said in a statement. "He is in good hands."
Madiba is Mandela's tribal nickname.
Zuma visited Mandela along with ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Mandela. Zuma also met Graca Machel, Mandela's wife, at the hospital and discussed the former leader's condition, according to the statement.
Zuma appealed to South Africans and the rest of the world to pray for Mandela, his family and his medical team. Mandela turns 95 on July 18.
On Saturday, it was reported that the ambulance carrying Mandela to the hospital June 8 broke down while he was on board, requiring that he be moved to a second vehicle. Zuma said he had been assured "all care was taken to ensure his medical condition was not compromised.''
"There were seven doctors in the convoy who were in full control of the situation throughout the period. He had expert medical care. The fully equipped military ICU ambulance had a full complement of specialist medical staff including intensive care specialists and ICU nurses. The doctors also dismissed the media reports that Madiba suffered cardiac arrest. There is no truth at all in that report," Zuma said in a statement released by spokesman Mac Maharaj.
Mandela became South Africa's first black president after the end of apartheid in 1994. He retired from public life in 2004 and has rarely been seen at official events since. He has been seen around the world as a leader of the movement for human rights and reconciliation.
Contributing: The Associated Press