Africa had never been short of great people. But few would argue against the idea that in colonial and postcolonial Africa, the greatest son produced by the continent is Nelson Mandela. Here is a man from a humble background, whose traditional name was “a trouble maker,” yet he translated the meaning of his name in a positive way, by making trouble against white minority rule in South Africa to ensure the emancipation of his people. Mandela was a natural fighter. As he told us in Long Walk to Freedom, “there was no particular day on which I said, from henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise” (p.95).
The struggle of Nelson Mandela United the African continent, various African leaders from Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who made one of the largest donations to the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s political party and the platform for fighting against apartheid, to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who supported the struggle against oppression in South Africa, to Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, who became the Arab son of the struggle to free the people of South Africa, down to the likes of Halie Selassie of Ethiopia, the sincerity of Nelson Mandela’s struggle united the continent, and the world at large. Murtala Muhammad of Nigeria lost his life potentially one would argue, due to his stand on the struggle to free African countries like Angola and South Africa, although the failed coup that resulted in his assassination had the colouration of a domestic uprising.
The life of Nelson Mandela developed in phases. From that of a youthful freedom fighter working to emancipate his people, to a politician who has the dexterity to plan, coordinate, and negotiate the freedom of his country from prison, to statesman who lived above his ambition by sacrificing his desire to lead South Africa. One would argue that if there is one leader in Africa, who deserves to remain president for life, and would have secured the backing of his people, it would have been Nelson Mandela.
For with without doubt, the freedom and liberty for black and other coloured South Africans to live as equals to the whites is more important to them, than living the most affluent life as second class citizens under the apartheid system. Yet Nelson Mandela decided to quit, and by so doing, he has helped his country to consolidate the transition to independent statehood. The dream of Nelson Mandela to have a country where social class is irrelevant has not yet been achieved, but the hope to build a country where everyone is relevant remains alive.
The spirit with which he fought, the conviction he had that no matter how long a journey takes, it will one day reach its destination has inspired others to fight for the freedom and dignity of their people. One lesson I learnt from reading the biography and observing the life of Nelson Mandela is one key thing, whatever cause you are pursuing, it is those little things that you do, those minor sacrifices that you make which will one day lead to greatness.
The struggle of Nelson Mandela to free South Africa was unique, it comprises of certain qualities that are rare in Africa today. The struggle involved Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Whites and the Coloured. In one hand you have the likes of Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba, while on the other end you have the likes of Ahmad Kathrada, Yusuf Dadoo, and Ismail Meer, coming together to fight a common enemy. It is not surprising therefore that the ‘rainbow nation’ reflects the coming together of these unique personalities for the dignity of their country.
The struggle led by Nelson Mandela has left a legacy, the legacy of forgiveness. As professor Ali Mazrui once argued, that one of the unique qualities of Africans is “short memory of hate” and he cited the case of Nelson Mandela’s ability to forgive his oppressors at a time when he had the chance to avenge for the wrongdoing he tested together with his people.
Of course Nelson Mandela is not perfect. He has his pitfalls. “one day, during this same time, my wife informed me that my elder son, Thembi, then five, had asked her, “where does Daddy live”, said Mr Mandela in Long Work to Freedom, “I had been returning late at night, long after he had gone to sleep, and departing early in the morning before he woke.” (p.119), Mr Mandela added. This is the sacrifice he had to make, but it was a feeling that his family had about him in the few years that he could stay with them.
Nelson Mandela is gone, his legacy will be remembered for generations, but the one billion dollar question is, who steps into his shoes? I looked around Africa, and even went on window shopping in other continents, I saw some leaders with potentials, but on a closer scrutiny, I realize that they are not like Nelson Mandela. I came back to Africa again, the picture is not looking good, but we shall never lose hope; if you have a name in your mind, kindly suggest it, for somebody needs to fill that shoe, now, tomorrow or in the generations to come.