World icon Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th birthday last Friday. He was born at Qunu, near Umtata on 18 July 1918, was instrumental in pushing the ANC into more direct action such as the 1952 Defiance Campaign.
By the late 50s, the South-African state had become increasingly repressive, making it more difficult for the ANC to operate.
In 1962, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the notorious Robben Island prison.
Mandela was released after 27 years stay in prison in 1991and inaugurated as the first democratically elected State President of South Africa. He remained the President of South Africa until June 1999.
The man, who spent almost all years of his active life fighting for the freedom of his people, did not insist on holding on to power, but immediately paved way for other people to handle the country when his mandate expired.
Nelson Mandela is unique; he never revenged or tried to harass the people who tortured him and his people for ages.
He inspired the rainbow nation by bringing together whites, coloured, blacks, together as one people of South Africa.
This is rare and indeed makes Mandela a special man. As President, Mandela presided over a peaceful transition from minority rule and apartheid to majority rule.
There is no doubt that his advocacy of reconciliation led to international acclaim and importantly the trust of the White African population. Some white people, due to their guilt consciences, had planned to flee the country after Mandela’s accession to power.
Yes, they had committed numerous unspeakable crimes against the black people of South Africa and they could not imagine Mandela forgiving them.
“P.W Botha’s security forces killed over 2,000 people and about 25,000 people were detained without trial and often tortured.
He refused to apologise for apartheid and denied he had known about the torture and assassinations (and declined to appear when summoned by the state-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which in its final report in 2003 blamed him for much of the horror of the last decade of white rule)”, reported the UN.
Botha the former leader of the apartheid regime was not ready to reconcile and had it not been, the brilliance of Mandela, the country would still be in chaos today.
The hard lined apartheid leaders were not going to allow the country to move forward, especially if they met an ANC leader who was not as focused as the 90-year-old man was.
In June 1999, Botha for example, had the courage to utter words like, “I will never ask for amnesty. Not now, not tomorrow, not after tomorrow”. Such a political stand set a very bad precedent for a post apartheid South Africa.
Nevertheless, the bright Mandela had a cool mind to act otherwise. He started Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Bishop Tutu, to investigate human rights violations committed during the regime to start a restorative justice.
His words are few, but properly calculated in a way that he lives what he says. He does not believe in the conservative definition of politics as a dirty game, where you say this and do the reverse. Mandela kept promises he gave when he was being inaugurated.
“Today we are entering a new era for our country and its people. Today we celebrate not the victory of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa…. I hate discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations.
I am no racialist and I detest racialism because I regard it as barbaric thing whether it comes from a black man or a white man,” said Mandela.
His attitude and great insight has no doubt been his driving power of success. Managing a post- apartheid regime of South Africa was not easy, but Mandela did and that is why he ranks highly among the most loved African heroes.
How many African leaders have managed to do even a third of what this man has done and is still doing?
Mandela changes lifestyle
When Mandela’s relationship with Winnie soured, he was very fast in adjusting to a new lifestyle. He took a rare decision at his 80th birthday, to marry former Mozambican education minister Gracia Machel.
Machel is also the widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel, who died in a 1986 airplane crash. The presidential Tupolev jet mysteriously crashed into a hill 100 metres inside the South African border, robbing Mozambique of the hero of its liberation struggle.
A number of things could have brought the two together. Both Mandela and Machel have deep Methodist roots.
Mandela was educated in a Methodist school in South Africa. Machel is United Methodist and attended a Methodist school in Mozambique.
Above all, Samora Machel, the late Mozambican president. Samora’s death is mostly traced in the apartheid regime of South Africa that Mandela was opposed to.
Machel in marrying Mandela could have done it to pursue his determination trace the death of the husband (Samora).
“Machel is convinced the crash was no accident and has dedicated her life to tracking down her husband’s killers. Even if justice is not seen in her lifetime, she says, her children have vowed to carry on the hunt”, remarks Debora Patta.
Nonetheless, such a sudden change of lifestyle never shook Mandela - from Winnie to Machel.
Mandela at 90
Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mandela has become South Africa’s highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and helping to secure his country’s right to host the 2010 football World Cup.
This was after he retired from public life to spend more time with his family and friends and engage in quiet reflection.
He thus, remains determined and focused; though his age and achievements would have justified his retirement from all struggles.
He has constantly and carefully managed to help his successor to administer the country both at the national and international levels.
His recent remark on the political quagmire in Zimbabwe clearly shows how he would have acted if he was in power.
He implicitly criticizes Mugabe and those who are not reacting accordingly. “Nelson Mandela broke his silence on the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, saying the country was suffering due to a tragic failure of leadership.
“We watch with sadness the continuing tragedy in Darfur. Nearer to home we had seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe “, Mandela said.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela-”Madiba” is a true political icon African leaders should emulate.