He ne­go­ti­ated with the apartheid White regime and with­out blood­shed shared the rul­ing pow­ers with the White mi­nor­ity, abid­ing with prin­ci­ples of equal op­por­tu­nity to all cit­i­zens He ad­hered to the Con­sti­tu­tion of the coun­try to the let­ter which was adopt

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FEATURES - By Fran­cis Madi­wela

Dur­ing this crit­i­cal junc­ture when our coun­try is go­ing through a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis, read­ing about the life of a states­man like Nel­son Man­dela seems to be an in­ter­est­ing learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to us all. Five years ago, Nel­son Man­dela, world renowned African leader, No­bel Peace Prize win­ner and the first Black Pres­i­dent of South Africa, passed away. Many lead­ers and representatives from 90 coun­tries at­tended his fu­neral. The Blacks who had an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity did not have any po­lit­i­cal right in the apartheid South Africa. Man­dela fought for one per­son one vote and the rights of his broth­ers and sis­ters. He was tried un­justly as a ter­ror­ist and a po­lit­i­cal ag­i­ta­tor and was im­pris­oned for 26 years from 1964 to 1990.

Once re­leased from prison, he ne­go­ti­ated with the White Prime Min­ster W.F. De Klerk for a demo­cratic Con­sti­tu­tion where all cit­i­zens would have vot­ing rights. In 1994, Nel­son Man­dela was elected as the Pres­i­dent of South Africa with an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity. He ne­go­ti­ated with the apartheid White regime and with­out blood­shed shared the rul­ing pow­ers with the White mi­nor­ity, abid­ing with prin­ci­ples of equal op­por­tu­nity to all cit­i­zens. For­mer White Prime Minister W.F. De Clerk be­came one of the mem­bers of his Cab­i­net.

Man­dela was ad­mired through­out the whole world for the way he ne­go­ti­ated an am­i­ca­ble po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment with the White su­prem­a­cists. He was called the Gandhi of mod­ern times and be­sides the No­bel Peace Prize, he was awarded mul­ti­ple hon­ours from all around the world in­clud­ing the US Pres­i­den­tial Medal for Peace, Lenin Peace Prize from Rus­sia and Bharat Ratna from In­dia.


The 1996 Con­sti­tu­tion al­lowed him to run a sec­ond term. But in 1997 he re­signed from the party lead­er­ship and re­fused to run for a sec­ond term. At the time of re­tire­ment, the Gal­lop polls showed 80% sup­port for Pres­i­dent Man­dela. Af­ter re­tire­ment, he was ac­tive in ini­ti­at­ing so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties to up­lift the or­di­nary Black African peo­ple. He also raised funds to find a so­lu­tion to the AIDS epi­demic among the Blacks in Africa.

He over­came a bout of prostate cancer af­ter re­tire­ment, but got res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions at the end of his life and was hos­pi­talised on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. On De­cem­ber 8, 2013 he suc­cumbed to a se­vere lung in­fec­tion.


“A friend once asked me how I could rec­on­cile my creed of African na­tion­al­ism with a be­lief in di­alec­ti­cal ma­te­ri­al­ism. For me, there was no con­tra­dic­tion. I was first and fore­most an African na­tion­al­ist fight­ing for our eman­ci­pa­tion from mi­nor­ity rule and the right to control our own des­tiny. But at the same time, South African and African con­ti­nents are part of the larger world. Our problems, while dis­tinc­tive and spe­cial were not unique, and a phi­los­o­phy that placed those problems in an in­ter­na­tional and his­tor­i­cal con­text of the greater world and the course of his­tory were valu­able. I was pre­pared to use what­ever means nec­es­sary to ex­pe­dite the era­sure of hu­man prej­u­dice and the end of chau­vin­is­tic and violent na­tion­al­ism.”


The world’s politi­cians can learn an enor­mous num­ber of lessons from the life of Nel­son Man­dela. He was strongly urged by his party sup­port­ers not to re­sign from the party lead­er­ship. But he trained two or three younger peo­ple in the African Na­tional Congress and gave up his lead­er­ship to them. He fought and won the demo­cratic rights for his peo­ple with pa­tience and sac­ri­fice. He spent 26 years of his life in prison fac­ing harsh con­di­tions be­cause he was con­vinced about his mis­sion to his peo­ple.

The whole na­tion and lead­ers of the other African coun­tries urged him to con­test the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion at least for one more term. He grace­fully re­jected to run for a sec­ond term. Ac­cord­ing to opin­ion polls, 80% of South African peo­ple wanted him to con­test. He never thought that the sur­vival of the South African democ­racy de­pended on him be­ing at the helm of the gov­ern­ment. He once said, “I am not a messiah, but an or­di­nary man who had be­come a leader be­cause of ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances.”

He ad­hered to the Con­sti­tu­tion of the coun­try to the let­ter which was adopted in May 1996 by the Par­lia­ment of South Africa and never trans­gressed any of its clauses to be in power for life. He re­spected the Con­sti­tu­tion which en­shrined a se­ries of in­sti­tu­tions to place checks on po­lit­i­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive au­thor­ity within the con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy. He re­spected the will of the peo­ple both Blacks and Whites in the coun­try.

He worked hard even af­ter re­tire­ment from pol­i­tics to erad­i­cate the AIDS virus, poverty and hunger from the African con­ti­nent. From the in­ter­na­tional mon­e­tary awards he re­ceived, he cre­ated the Man­dela Foun­da­tion in 1999 based in Jo­han­nes­burg to fo­cus on ru­ral de­vel­op­ment of Africans, school con­struc­tion and com­bat­ting HIV/AIDS. He cre­ated the Man­dela Rhodes Foun­da­tion to pro­vide post­grad­u­ate schol­ar­ships to bright African stu­dents.

He pub­licly crit­i­cized some of the African lead­ers such as Robert Mu­gabe of Zim­babwe who were hold­ing on to their power.

He strongly op­posed the NATO in­ter­ven­tion in Kosovo and the US-UK in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq, la­belling the Iraqi in­va­sion as a “tragedy.” A strong fol­lower of Ma­hatma Gandhi of In­dia and Martin Luther King of Amer­ica, he gained uni­ver­sal fran­chise and po­lit­i­cal free­dom for his Black South Africans. His bi­og­ra­phers called him, “one of the most revered per­sons of our time.” An­other called him a “global icon.”

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