Man­dela’s legacy is free­dom to choose

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

THIS week marks the cen­te­nary of per­haps one of the world’s great­est states­men and cer­tainly Africa’s and un­doubt­edly South Africa’s great­est – Nel­son Rolih­lahla Man- dela.

Born on July 18, 1918, in what was then the Transkei, he was – as his mid­dle name sug­gests – a trou­ble­maker. He had an eye for the ladies, a love for boxing and a taste for the good things in life. He was also a man of the peo­ple.

He over­came im­pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances to be­come a lawyer and to fight – legally and oth­er­wise – for his peo­ple’s free­dom.

He would give up 27 years of his life – lit­er­ally ex­iled, in­car­cer­ated in the mid­dle of the ocean.

When he was re­leased he did not seek vengeance on those who had robbed him of the best part of his nat­u­ral life. Nor did he re­tire grace­fully to spend what time he had left with his fam­ily – he threw him­self into his project of lead­ing this coun­try into a new dawn, rec­on­cil­ing that which had been his­tor­i­cally ir­rec­on­cil­able, to the amaze­ment and ac­claim of the en­tire world.

To­day his legacy is un­der in­creas­ing scru­tiny – as it should be – by those who won­der if Man­dela be­trayed sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions, es­pe­cially black South Africans, in his will­ing­ness to for­give his jail­ers and forge a new na­tion.

But it is Man­dela’s mag­na­nim­ity that makes it pos­si­ble for those de­bates to take place now. We need hon­est en­gage­ment. But this is be­com­ing sub­sumed by po­lit­i­cal en­trepreneurs who sub­sti­tute slo­gans for poli­cies in their de­scent to crass pop­ulism and per­sonal ag­gran­dis­e­ment. Now, more than ever, we need to find the Man­dela in our­selves – not the icon of pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion – as we craft the next chap­ter in this coun­try’s tur­bu­lent his­tory.

Man­dela and his com­rades be­queathed us a legacy; they laid a foun­da­tion. How we build on it from here is up to us.

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