Mandela’s legacy is freedom to choose
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.