What Madiba taught me

Nel­son Man­dela was laid to rest yes­ter­day, af­ter more than a week of re­mem­brance ser­vices and events. our colum­nist writes about how his ex­em­plary ways still move her.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - by BRENDA BENE­DICT Brenda Bene­dict is a Malaysian liv­ing in Frankfurt, who still fos­ters the fond­est mem­o­ries of her all­too-short stay in Madiba’s Rain­bow Na­tion.

WHEN news first broke of Nel­son Man­dela’s pass­ing, I was so sad­dened to the point of sur­prise.

Af­ter all, this per­son from a far­away con­ti­nent and for­eign cul­ture couldn’t have known I even ex­isted – let alone ad­mired him for so long from afar.

Be­sides, his frailty, fail­ing health and hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion to­ward the end should have primed us all for the in­evitable. Yet, noth­ing can quite pre­pare you for the pass­ing of one, who to me was a flesh and blood su­per­hero that many of us can only hope to as­pire to.

He didn’t leap tall build­ings in a sin­gle bound or crawl up walls. No, his power was to lead by do­ing, show­ing us how to use the in­nate good­ness within our­selves for the bet­ter­ment of our fel­low men.

For the most part of my for­ma­tive years back in the 20th cen­tury (boy, do I sound old!), his name was of­ten syn­ony­mous with other words that slowly crept into my vo­cab­u­lary: apartheid, mi­nor­ity rule, Soweto, town­ships, poverty, Robben Is­land, in­car­cer­a­tion, demon­stra­tion.

The clenched right fist; danc­ing demon­stra­tors; the trun­cheons of the riot po­lice; flee­ing crowds. These were stan­dard im­ages when­ever South Africa was men­tioned on the 8.30pm news that Dad watched daily. Where he’d click his tongue and shake his head dis­be­liev­ingly at the footage.

I was made to watch Gandhi in 1982; made to, be­cause Dad wanted me to un­der­stand the his­tory of his for­mer home. The scene where a rather fair-skinned (at least to me) Gandhi was hurled out of the train in South Africa for be­ing “coloured” and in the wrong com­part­ment shocked me, mak­ing me aware of my own skin in the process. Years later, Cry Free­dom – the story of Steve Biko, a South African an­ti­a­partheid ac­tivist who died in po­lice cus­tody – made me em­brace my brown-ness and my right not to be treated worse for it.

How­ever, to me, both these men were “his­tor­i­cal” fig­ures – peo­ple whose courage rat­tled un­just regimes and moved the world way be­fore my time.

Then in Fe­bru­ary 1990, I watched RTM2’s live tele­cast of a grey­ing, smil­ing man in a suit, look­ing noth­ing like the hefty bloke sen­tenced to life-time in­car­cer­a­tion 27 years be­fore, walk­ing out to free­dom with clenched right fist proudly up­held, to joy­ful ul­u­la­tions and cries of “Madiba”. He had me at, “Friends, com­rades, fel­low South Africans.”

It couldn’t have been more apt that Nel­son Man­dela’s pass­ing oc­curred in the pe­riod of Ad­vent, which leads to the birth date of an­other Man whose two main com­mand­ments to His fol­low­ers were “to love God and love thy neigh­bour as thy­self.”

Him­self a fol­lower, Man­dela def­i­nitely walked the talk. Some of his words and ex­am­ples re­main lessons and some­times tall or­ders for me:

To for­give

“As I walked out 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.”

Let’s face it- lah. How many of us freak out merely be­cause some­one cuts in at the traf­fic light? I, for one, have and still some­times do.

Yet, you’re only a car away from zoom­ing off at green. And here was some­one who was un­fairly in­car­cer­ated and lan­guished in a tiny cell through­out the prime of his life, com­ing out and preach­ing tem­per­ance and peace. If that isn’t su­per­hu­man, I don’t know what is.

To ab­hor vi­o­lence

“Take your guns, your knives, your pan­gas (ma­chetes) and throw them into the sea!”

This ad­mon­ish­ment came dur­ing the time of in-fight­ing amongst his coun­try­men, thus avert­ing a po­ten­tial civil war. Now if only the blood­thirsty of this world would pay heed.

To out­law racism

“Racism is a blight on the hu­man con­science. The idea that any peo- ple can be in­fe­rior to an­other, to the point where those who con­sider them­selves su­pe­rior de­fine and treat the rest as sub-hu­man, de­nies the hu­man­ity even of those who el­e­vate them­selves to the sta­tus of gods.”

Which is also why I find it ut­terly ab­hor­rent when politi­cians equate their hege­monic agen­das with that of Man­dela’s fight.

To know when to step back

“One of the things that made me long to be back in prison was that I had so lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for read­ing, think­ing and quiet re­flec­tion af­ter my re­lease. I in­tend, amongst other things, to give my­self much more op­por­tu­nity for such read­ing and re­flec­tion.”

Self-ex­plana­tory but worth re­peat­ing for any­one stub­bornly cling­ing to power.

To have a merry heart

“It is mu­sic and danc­ing that makes me at peace with the world. And at peace with my­self.”

When he died, I up­loaded a video of Johnny Clegg singing

Asim­bo­nanga (We Have Not Seen Him), a song writ­ten in trib­ute to him dur­ing his in­car­cer­a­tion. Go watch it on Youtube and be blown away by the joie de vivre of a man who har­nessed the wrongs done to him, and came out the other side stronger, wiser and cheerier.

It was a long walk to free­dom, Mr Man­dela. But I’m con­vinced it’ll be a short sprint past the Pearly Gates. Rest in peace.

For­ever re­mem­bered: South africans wav­ing the flag of South africa as they watch the funeral cortege car­ry­ing the body of for­mer South african Pres­i­dent nel­son Man­dela to the Union build­ings on Madiba Street in Pre­to­ria on dec 11. Man­dela, the revered icon of the anti-apartheid strug­gle in South africa and one of the tow­er­ing po­lit­i­cal fig­ures of the 20th cen­tury, died in Jo­han­nes­burg on dec 5 at the age of 95. — aFP

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