HOW MANY ARE READY TO DIE FOR DEMOC­RACY?

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - EDITORIAL -

At a time of un­prece­dented po­lit­i­cal tur­moil when Sri Lanka’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and peo­ple’s main­line representatives are in a cri­sis where for most of them their rep­u­ta­tion has been shat­tered, the world on Wed­nes­day marked the fifth an­niver­sary of the death of South Africa’s leg­endary Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela.

Much is the in­spi­ra­tion, the en­cour­age­ment and ideals that Nel­son Man­dela could give to world lead­ers and politi­cians. We hoped that in over­com­ing the cur­rent cri­sis our lead­ers also will take the right per­spec­tive and par­a­digm shift from Mr. Man­dela and be­come game chang­ers. Thereby they will be re­mem­bered in the golden pages of our his­tory, rather than end­ing up in a garbage dump. One of his main lessons was that he lived for democ­racy, and a free so­ci­ety, would fight for it, and was even ready to die for it.

Af­ter serv­ing decades in prison and suf­fer­ing much, he peace­fully won the power strug­gle of South Africa’s black ma­jor­ity and be­came the Pres­i­dent in July 1994. The peo­ple loved him and he could have served for a life­time, but chose to re­tire af­ter one term. This is an­other im­por­tant les­son for our lead­ers who ap­pear to have problems in let­ting go be­cause power cor­rupts even the best of lead­ers.

In­stead of per­se­cut­ing the white mi­nor­ity lead­ers, Pres­i­dent Man­dela set up the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC), where the white mi­nor­ity lead­ers were given an op­por­tu­nity to ad­mit their guilt, to be for­given and play their role in so­ci­ety. Dur­ing the pro­ceed­ings of the TRC, one mil­i­tary of­fi­cer was on trial for killing the hus­band and the only son of a coloured woman. When he pleaded guilty, the com­mis­sion asked the woman how she would re­spond to it. She made two re­quests. One was to be shown where her hus­band was buried so that she could go and pay her re­spects. The woman paused be­fore mak­ing her sec­ond re­quest. A hushed court also waited and when the judge asked what her sec­ond re­quest was, she told the young killer, I want you to come and be my son. The young killer col­lapsed in dis­be­lief, but through Nel­son Man­dela, the world came to know of the power of re­pen­tance, for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

Mr. Man­dela was born on July 18, 1918. Hear­ing the el­ders’ sto­ries of his an­ces­tors’ valour dur­ing the wars of re­sis­tance, he dreamed also of mak­ing his own con­tri­bu­tion to the free­dom strug­gle of his peo­ple.

Mr. Man­dela be­gan his stud­ies for a Bach­e­lor of Arts de­gree at the Univer­sity Col­lege of Fort Hare but did not com­plete the de­gree there as he was ex­pelled for join­ing in a stu­dent protest. He later com­pleted his BA through the Univer­sity of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his grad­u­a­tion in 1943.

Ac­cord­ing to the Man­dela Foun­da­tion, the leg­endary leader, while in­creas­ingly po­lit­i­cally in­volved from 1942, only joined the African Na­tional Congress in 1944 when he helped to form the ANC Youth League. Mr. Man­dela rose through the ranks of the ANC Youth League and through its ef­forts, the ANC adopted a more rad­i­cal mass-based pol­icy, in 1949.

In 1952 he was cho­sen as the Na­tional Vol­un­teer-in-chief of the De­fi­ance Cam­paign with Maulvi Cachalia as his deputy. This cam­paign of civil dis­obe­di­ence against six un­just laws was a joint pro­gramme be­tween the ANC and the South African In­dian Congress. He and 19 oth­ers were charged un­der the Sup­pres­sion of Com­mu­nism Act for their part in the cam­paign and sen­tenced to nine months of hard labour, sus­pended for two years. A two-year diploma in law on top of his BA al­lowed Man­dela to prac­tise law, and in Au­gust 1952 he and Oliver Tambo es­tab­lished South Africa’s first black law firm, Man­dela & Tambo. At the end of 1952, he was banned for the first time. As a re­stricted per­son he was only per­mit­ted to watch in se­cret as the Free­dom Char­ter was adopted in Klip­town on June 26, 1955.

On Oc­to­ber 9 1963, Mr. Man­dela joined 10 oth­ers on trial for sab­o­tage in what be­came known as the Rivo­nia Trial. While fac­ing the death penalty his words to the court at the end of his fa­mous Speech from the Dock on April 20, 1964, be­came im­mor­talised. “I have fought against white dom­i­na­tion and I have fought against black dom­i­na­tion. I have cher­ished the ideal of a demo­cratic and free so­ci­ety in which all peo­ple live to­gether in har­mony and with equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs are, it is an ideal for which I am pre­pared to die. ”

On this Man­dela Re­mem­brance Day, we would like Sri Lanka’s lead­ers and other politi­cians to ask them­selves, how many are ready to die for democ­racy and a free so­ci­ety.

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