The Sunday Leader

Honouring Mandela But Not Following Him

Hypocritical and sycophantic tributes which should make even the dead squirm – had they been modest and honest people when alive – is the persisting style in funeral oratory the world over. It was inevitable that such lavish outpouring of tributes should have been made outside and at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, ‘the Greatest Liberator of the 20th Century’. 

What’s remarkable is that praise and appreciation expressed by world leaders and even by humble Africans that assembled at Soweto’s World Cup stadium in torrential rain on Tuesday, is truly deserving and cannot be challenged – even by those who do not like Mandela. His record is near impeccable.

Greatness of Mandela  

The greatness of this humble man, a freedom fighter, politician, lawyer and statesman who lived through 95 tumultuous years, is that he did what every decent human should have done: Practised what he preached.

American President Barack Obama, in a passionate and stirring speech that warmed up a rain soaked massive gathering of tens of thousands that included 52 presidents and 16 prime ministers, waxed eloquent on the greatness of Mandela. It would have had the so called world leaders engage in some soul searching when he pointed out: ‘There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s (Mandela’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; stand on the sidelines comfortable in complacency of cynicism when our voices must be heard’.

Soul searching

Obama’s comments would certainly have reflected on representatives of ‘born again’ ex-colonial countries, who had backed the Apartheid South African regime to its last days. Obama himself was throwing stones from a glass house because America, under President Ronald Reagan and Britain under Margaret Thatcher (with a young Conservative apparatchik David Cameron hanging on the Thatcher’s skirts) opposed international sanctions against Apartheid South Africa.

Leaders of developing countries who are presiding over bloody religious and communal clashes in their countries but are unable to resolve them due to racial, religious prejudices and petty political interests too would have had their consciences pricked when reminded of their vocal support for Mandela’s principles but total disregard for them in practice.

There are bound to be cries from the Third World countries: ‘heal thyself, Brother Obama on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Drones, etc’ even though Obama in his speech itself confessed: ‘While I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man’.

Obama was saying indirectly: Not only praise but practise what Mandela has said.

Democracy and two-thirds majority

Mandela, throughout his career as a freedom fighter, lawyer, guerrilla fighter and national leader, has proved himself to be a true African nationalist and democrat having a singular objective in mind: Destruction of the Apartheid system which made Africans slaves in their own land.

Flicking through his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom in the last chapter we came across his true commitment to democracy. While reflecting on the results of the first election to the South African parliament, he says: We (ANC) polled 62.6 per cent of the national vote, slightly short of the two-thirds needed to push through a final constitution without support from other parties………Some in the ANC were disappointed we did not cross the two thirds threshold but I was not one of them. In fact I was relieved; had we won two-thirds of the vote and been able to write a constitution unfettered by input from others, people would argue that we had created an ANC constitution not a South African constitution. I wanted a true government of national unity.

Later on he adds:…..  ‘I saw my mission as one of preaching reconciliation, of binding the wounds of the country, of engendering trust and confidence. I knew that many people, particularly the minorities, whites, Coloureds and Indians would be feeling anxious about their future and I wanted them to feel secure. I reminded people again and again that the liberation struggle was not a battle against any one group or colour but a fight against the system of repression…..’

Three Sri Lankan governments have been blessed or cursed with a two-thirds majority – the United Front government of Sirima Bandaranaike, the UNP government of J. R. Jayewardene and the Mahinda Rajapaksa government which even though it did not have a two-thirds majority in elections maneuvered one. The actions of all these governments following their sweeping victories have acted contrary to Mandela although they are public worshippers at Mandela’s altar.

Mandela also demonstrated he did not have an insatiable thirst for eternal power. After he completed his first term as the first Black President of his country, he retired and left it to the party which he had nurtured for over three decades to elect leaders to run the country.

Sri Lankan political parties, though playing lip service to Mandela’s greatness, had done the opposite what he has done. These issues have been debated at length and we will leave it to our readers to have yet another say if they so desire.

Last drop of blood

In this country we have glib politicians and nationalists mounting public platforms declaring that they are prepared ‘to shed their last drop of blood’ even for not much worthy causes. Mandela and his fellow freedom fighters did not make such vain pledges which would have been forgotten the next day. But given the occasion they did rise up to the challenge.

At the trial of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the guerrilla wing formed by ANC activists led by Mandela, they were accused of Sabotage and Conspiracy against the government, a charge tantamount to treason and punishable even with the death penalty. Mandela and the main accused were found guilty of all main charges but passing of sentences was postponed by a few days. The accused expected the death penalty and decided that even if the death penalty was to be imposed on them they would not appeal against it.

Mandela in his autobiography states: ‘After a discussion among ourselves (We) informed our counsel that whatever sentences we received, even the death sentence, we would not appeal. Mandela writes: Our decision stunned the lawyers…… an appeal would undermine the moral stance we had taken…… we were now not going to suggest otherwise in an appeal. If a death sentence was to be passed we did not want to hamper the mass campaign that would surely spring up. In the light of the bold and defiant line we had taken all along, an appeal would sound anti-climactic and even disillusioning. Our message was that no sacrifice was too great in the struggle for freedom.

The possibility of the death penalty being imposed caused global protests. Night long vigils were held at St Paul’s Cathedral London, students of the University of London elected Mandela president of the Students’ Union in absentia and UN Security Council with four abstentions including the United States and Britain urged the South African government to end the trial and grant amnesty to the defendants.

The Apartheid government did not impose the death penalty and thus commenced Mandela’s long inhuman prison term.
That was the epic and heroic struggle through which Mandela and his comrades led their people freedom. Twenty years after emancipation the world has not forgotten the heroes that led it. They can honour Mandela and others by following his principles in their own countries.

3 Comments for “Honouring Mandela But Not Following Him”

  1. Malcolm X

    In Sri Lanka we are yet to see a leader in the caliber or even with the slightest comparison to Mandela & i doubt that any group,party or person has what it takes to follow the Mandela vision.Our leaders past & present are nowhere near compared to this great leader/liberator/visionary etc.

  2. MANDELA WAS AN ENLIGHTENED PERSON INVESTED WITH A SPIRIT TO EXEMPLIFY THE TEACHINGS OF ALL THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS.
    AS THE LAST JOURNEY OF THIS FAITHFUL PILGRIM TOOK HIM BEYOND
    THE SUNSET,AND AS HEAVENS MORNING BROKE,I LIKE TO THINK -
    IN THE WORDS OF BUNYAN- THAT “ALL THE TRUMPETS SOUNDED ON THE OTHER SIDE”.

  3. ranjit demel

    mandela was a very great man,praised by many hypocrits from the so called developed world as well as the so called undeveloped world.i do hope these hypocrits would atlleast start thinking now,and their political actions, would be for the betterment of the quality of life for all of us in this world.i bet my last cent these political humbugs will never do it,.even in south Africa, nothing has changed,for the exploited,supressed volk.the only change is instead of the whites,the blacks and the coloured, with the help of the whites, are free to continue the same poltics of the whites of yesterday.mandela the great, unfortunately, was not in a positon to change anythingin s.f. nori anywhere,,because the politicians are corrupted power hungry shits..there was another great man from india,by the name of mahatma ghandi,unfortunately, he too could not change anything even in india.the same procedure as yesterday. ranjit demel berlin colombo

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