Man­dela should be stud­ied in schools

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - PAUL SUR­TEES The au­thor is a Hong Kong-based com­men­ta­tor, univer­sity lec­turer and founder of the Hong Kong branch of the Royal Over-Seas League. Nel­son Man­dela was an in­ter­na­tional mem­ber of that pan-Com­mon­wealth club.

An old man dies in Africa, and the world grieves. In this trou­bled world, peo­ple are tak­ing time to re­flect on the sig­nif­i­cance of his ex­tra­or­di­nary life. Through sheer willpower, po­lit­i­cal wis­dom, a sense of jus­tice and great moral courage, he was able to tear down the walls of apartheid, and achieved this against seem­ingly over­whelm­ing odds.

The world, not just South Africa, where he was to be­come its first black pres­i­dent af­ter spend­ing 27 years in prison for want­ing all peo­ple to be equal re­gard­less of color, will not be the same af­ter his fine ex­am­ple of states­man­ship. In­stead of the ex­pected blood­bath that some com­men­ta­tors pre­dicted af­ter he took of­fice, Man­dela was able to rec­on­cile the coun­try through per­sonal for­give­ness of the very peo­ple who had once per­se­cuted and in­car­cer­ated him.

As US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama re­cently said, Nel­son Man­dela now be­longs not just to our age, but to all ages. We can re­gard him as sim­i­lar in stature to other mod­ern saintly fig­ures, such as Ma­hatma Gandhi who helped make In­dia free through non-vi­o­lent resistance and Mother Teresa, who served the poor­est of Calcutta. Obama ad­mit­ted to be­ing in­spired by Man­dela; surely Hong Kong’s pub­lic fig­ures and gen­er­a­tions of young peo­ple can also learn from his ex­am­ple.

Man­dela lived through times of great strife at home and abroad. It is his legacy of ex­tra­or­di­nary moral and phys­i­cal courage which makes him uni­ver­sally ad­mired. He was mag­nan­i­mous in vic­tory, even in­clud­ing some of his for­mer en­e­mies in his govern­ment. The free­dom and equal­ity he won for peo­ple did not come eas­ily.

It was his gen­er­a­tion’s mis­for­tune to live un­der a vile and man­i­festly un­just racially seg­re­gated regime, which con­demned him to a prison cell for more than a third of his adult life. Be­ing un­justly locked up in prison for most of the prime years of his adult life would make most men bit­ter. In­stead, once in power, he re­jected any no­tions of tak­ing re­venge on his cap­tors. He in­stead wasted no time work­ing hard for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and heal­ing the deep wounds in his coun­try’s na­tional psy­che. He even ap­pointed for­mer en­e­mies to min­is­te­rial posts in his govern­ment of na­tional unity.

The abom­inable in­jus­tice of apartheid was abol­ished un­der his lead­er­ship, but without the vi­o­lent racial strife pre­dicted by many. In his later decades, he also did much to try to bring peace to other trou­ble spots, and to aid wor­thy causes, in Africa and glob­ally.

A study of his life would make for a very good les­son in lead­er­ship for our politi­cians and other pub­lic fig­ures and ethics for Hong Kong stu­dents.

The chal­lenge for na­tional lead­ers through­out Africa — and around the globe — will be to be­have in a way which al­ways puts their cit­i­zens first, as Man­dela did, and to rise above petty squab­bles, nar­row self in­ter­est and jeal­ousies. Few lead­ers, if any, in Africa or else­where can read­ily fill his giant shoes. But just mak­ing an ef­fort to em­u­late him would be a trib­ute to his last­ing legacy.

Paul Sur­tees

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