When des­tiny called, Man­dela rose to the oc­ca­sion grace­fully

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - JAKKIE CIL­LIERS and RAMESH THAKUR

DES­TINY had fash­ioned in Nel­son Rolih­lahla Man­dela an aris­to­cratic vis­age, a light com­mon touch, rig­or­ous self-dis­ci­pline, gra­cious hu­mil­ity and unim­peach­able in­tegrity.

On Thurs­day, De­cem­ber 5, Man­dela took the last step on his “long walk to free­dom” – the ti­tle of his mem­o­rable 1994 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, the movie ver­sion of which was re­leased at the end of last month.

The evoca­tive ti­tle was in­spired by In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence leader and first prime min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru who, more than half a cen­tury ear­lier, had writ­ten that “there is no easy walk to free­dom any­where and many of us will have to pass through the val­ley of the shadow of death again and again be­fore we reach the moun­tain tops”.

In 1980, In­dia con­ferred the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Award for In­ter­na­tional Un­der­stand­ing on Man­dela. With Man­dela still in prison, the award was ac­cepted by then-ANC pres­i­dent Oliver Tambo who, in the ac­cep­tance speech, poignantly and pre­sciently noted that Nehru had served the world far bet­ter as a free man lead­ing in­de­pen­dent In­dia than as a Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal pris­oner dur­ing the Raj.

Man­dela’s life also had many par­al­lels with that of Ma­hatma Gandhi. In the course of their re­spec­tive long walks to free­dom for In­dia and South Africa, both left large and in­deli­ble foot­prints in the sands of world his­tory.

Both be­gan their cam­paigns against racial and colo­nial op­pres­sion and in­jus­tice in South Africa. Both were lawyers who spent time in Joburg’s Old Fort prison (Gandhi in 1906, Man­dela in 1962).

How­ever, un­like Gandhi, who never held pub­lic of­fice, Man­dela’s walk took him on a fate­ful jour­ney from prison to pres­i­dent. In 2001, In­dia gave him the Gandhi Peace Prize for “ex­em­plary work” in pro­mot­ing peace and non-vi­o­lence.

In­dia’s free­dom jour­ney be­gan with Gandhi’s ex­pe­ri­ences, re­flec­tions and po­lit­i­cal ex­per­i­ments in South Africa. In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence lead­ers held that their free­dom would be in­com­plete un­til South Africa was lib­er­ated from apartheid.

This emo­tional res­o­nance tran­scended hard-edged cal­cu­la­tions of na­tional in­ter­est and ex­plains why, from the start, In­dia was the most pas­sion­ate and ef­fec­tive global cham­pion of elim­i­nat­ing apartheid.

The rev­er­ence In­di­ans held for Man­dela was recog­nised with the award of the coun­try’s high­est civil­ian hon­our, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of In­dia), in 1990 – he was only the sec­ond non-In­dian to be ac­corded this ac­co­lade. Shortly af­ter his re­lease in 1990 af­ter 27 years in prison, Man­dela chose to visit In­dia as his first over­seas desti­na­tion.

The emo­tional bond be­tween the two coun­tries was reaf­firmed when South African cricket, too, chose In­dia as its first over­seas tour desti­na­tion. All this helps to ex­plain why In­dia has de­clared five days of state mourn­ing for the death of the con­science of mankind.

The South African peo­ple’s re­ac­tion has been as much to cel­e­brate an ex­tra­or­di­nary life as to mourn the pass­ing of the fa­ther of the na­tion. Madiba in­spired South Africa, Africa and the world with his vi­sion of a demo­cratic so­ci­ety free of racism and prej­u­dice. He en­cour­aged tol­er­ance and for­give­ness and helped us to imag­ine a fu­ture where the most vul­ner­a­ble and marginalised peo­ple would be free from fear and want. He preached and prac­tised the creed that heal­ing be­gins with for­give­ness and jus­tice can light up even the dark­est cor­ners of hu­man­ity’s com­mon abode.

The prom­ise of a just so­ci­ety in which hu­man rights are safe­guarded has in­spired all of Africa since Man­dela’s re­lease.

His legacy in­cludes the es­tab­lish­ment of con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy in South Africa and the repli­ca­tion of th­ese val­ues and ideals across Africa. He will be re­mem­bered as a pas­sion­ate pro­tag­o­nist of panAfrican­ism who went out of his way to help solve some of Africa’s most dev­as­tat­ing con­flicts.

South Africa’s first demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment, with Man­dela as the found­ing post-apartheid pres­i­dent, in­vested sub­stan­tial ef­fort in trans­form­ing an apartheid mil­i­tary at war with the ma­jor­ity of its peo­ple and the re­gion, into a na­tional de­fence force un­der civil­ian con­trol.

The chal­lenge of re­form­ing the coun­try’s bru­tal apartheid po­lice force into a pro­fes­sional com­mu­nity-ori­en­tated po­lice ser­vice was met with a sim­i­lar re­solve.

Man­dela recog­nised the im­por­tance of an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary able to hold to ac­count even the most po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful per­son in the coun­try. In 1998, in an un­prece­dented move for a serv­ing pres­i­dent, he sub­mit­ted him­self to the courts when sum­moned to de­fend his de­ci­sion to set up a com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged racism, cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism in South African rugby.

Man­dela was to guide South Africa through the ex­traor­di­nar­ily dif­fi­cult and del­i­cate process of tran­si­tion from a white su­prem­a­cist apartheid regime to an in­clu­sive, mul­tira­cial rain­bow na­tion.

His model of tran­si­tional jus­tice to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion-withi­nac­count­abil­ity lit the way for other coun­tries emerg­ing from pro­tracted sec­tar­ian con­flict.

Many lead­ers- in- wait­ing are found want­ing when called to great­ness on as­sum­ing of­fice. Man­dela was one of the few to at­tain that lofty sta­tus, in both the man­ner in which he ex­er­cised pub­lic power for so­cial pur­poses and how he left of­fice vol­un­tar­ily af­ter just one term, with his grace and dig­nity in­tact and rep­u­ta­tion en­hanced.

Af­ter leav­ing of­fice, he con­tin­ued to wield ex­tra­or­di­nary in­flu­ence as the moral com­pass and voice of the na­tion, in Africa and the world.

His am­bi­tions for a so­ci­ety char­ac­terised by jus­tice, dig­nity and hu­man rights for all re­main un­ful­filled.

We shall hon­our his mem­ory by striv­ing to en­sure that his vi­sion is re­alised.

● Dr Cil­liers is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, and Pro­fes­sor Thakur is a mem­ber of the ISS Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil. This ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished on the ISS web­site at http://www.is­safrica.org/iss-to­day

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