Nelson Mandela:A Day After
There is no doubt about it. More than any other historic figure, Nelson Mandela could be said to have determined the character and the outlook of the new non-racial democratic South Africa. Judging by the rainbow of outpours of tributes, he almost came out as a 'Saint Mandela' in a world suffering from the crisis of leadership at various levels. Interestingly he was once likened to a Saint, albeit in a mischievious manner by no less a person than President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. In a documentary in May this year, Mugabe was reported to have said Mandela went 'a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of (blacks).' 'That's being too saintly, too good, too much of a saint,' he said. A day after the historic burial of Nelson Mandela's remains at his beloved rural childhood village of Qunu the point must be made that the 95-year old historic figure was no 'Nietzschean Superman' or 'demiurge of history'. He actually had a disdain for hero-worship and sycophancy of various hues. 'I have always been unhappy about my depiction as a demi-god' Mandela once said. I agree with his life long friend and a Nobel Peace Laureate, Desmond Tutu that as great as he was, Nelson Mandela was '…only one people on the beach, one of thousands'. ' Not an insignificant pebble, I' II grant you that, but a pebble all the same' he added. To appreciate Mandela we must not forget to appreciate thousands of other comrades who together with him selflessly put their lives on the line for liberty and freedom. We cannot forget, Walter Sisulu, Givan Mbeki, Oliver Thambo, scores of visible and invincible Robben Island prisoners. I visited Robben notorious Island in 2001 as a tourist. I bear witness that there were thousands of Mandelas who gave all they had to ensure a free and democratic South Africa. Lest we forget Nelson Mandela himself deliberately shared the credit of leadership with others. The present day Nigerian syndrome of a single leader or god-father is alien to Mandela. He was once asked about his reaction to the compilation of a CD of his collected greatest speeches on a SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) morning live programme. His response was worth being read; ' Vuyo (the TV presenter) I feel bad because the CD does not give a fair picture of this country's history. You and I know that the greatest of speakers among the men and women that waged the struggle against apartheid I am not even eloquent'. ' I would have been happier if my speeches were simply some among the great speeches that were made by our country's eminent personalities such as Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu, among many others. By so doing, we would be painting the right picture of our country's history. ..the reality of our struggle is that no individual among us can claim to have played a great role from the rest'. Mandela's response is recommended for the likes of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and eternally sit-tight President Robert Mugabe about how not to assume that only they and they alone deserve the honour of nations they preside over often for the worse.
A visitor from the outer space reading most of the tributes on Mandela would rightly have an impression that the great icon was 'self- made' in the sense of the rat race of the world of greed and self accumulation. It is certainly easier and convenient to take the pictures of Mandela as an amateur boxer, a prisoner and a president of a Republic (almost in-that-order). But the history of struggle (which undoubtedly was his life) for freedom and eventual triumph is far more complex than the global media presented it. Nelson Mandela was a product of his historic reality as much as Ghandi was in India, Kwame Nkrumah was in Ghana, Nnamdi Azikwe was in Nigeria and George Washington was in USA. To this extent, there will always be more Mandelas if the historic conditions dictate. Significantly too, Nelson Mandela was a product of an organisation, namely African National Congress (ANC). ANC was formed in 1912, six years well before Mandela was born. He undoubtedly together with others radicalised the ANC in the 50s and 60s from mere appeal to oppressors to open confrontation with the regime of apartheid. He nonetheless did this within the context of an organisation. The core principles of ANC are pan Africanism, socialism and even communism. Nelson Mandela once said ' I am a member of the ANC. I have been a member of ANC and I will remain a member until I die'. Mandela's staying power in an organisation that was once legalised, once banned and later unbanned spanning over a century contrasts sharply with the current carpet crossing of Nigeria's modern day politicians. Lest we forget, no short cut to freedom and certainly without building institutions especially political parties with clear cut ideologies we can hardly build a sustainable democratic society.
I read through the great tribute of President Barack Obama at Mandela memorial. Many thanks to Obama for reminding us of Madiba's 1964 trail speech where he said 'I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,'. Obama also commendably observed that there are .'… too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard' . Well put! But Obama did not go far enough to point out that United States of America under Ronald Reagan and Britain under Margret Thatcher actually stood on the sidelines and indeed collaborated with apartheid regime while Mandela and others were unjustly imprisoned. Lest we forget that the battle against apartheid was won with American and British people but certainly not with their governments who did dirty business with apartheid. By the way lest we forget where was Nigeria's voice at Mandela memorial? Lest we forget; Nigeria was once a frontline state in the struggle against apartheid just as Tanzania and Cuba.
Issa Aremu mni, is the Secetary General Alumini Association of the National Institute, Kuru Jos and Vice President, NLC.