Updated: Jul 1, 2020
The Man Mandela
By: Mr. Joseph Emenyeonu (GFP Coordinator)
Perhaps it is William Butler Yeats poem ‘The Second Coming’ that best paints the picture of indignation and resignation in South Africa. Yeats wrote, ‘’Turning and turning in a widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…." Things have really fallen apart and tremulous voices are heard all over the rainbow nation and even beyond, weeping, wailing and loud lamentations. They refuse to be consoled because the ‘giant of history’, the great iroko sheltering birds of all plumages has fallen. Nelson Mandela, Madiba, is no more.
Words alone cannot aptly express the hurt in our hearts, the fear in our eyes and the tremor in our voices as the news of Madiba’s demise filtered in from all major international satellite TV stations. Like Macbeth responded to the news of the death of his wife lady Macbeth, many of us voiced a defiant despair. Many of us thought he ‘’should have died hereafter’’, we thought ‘’there should have been a time for such a word, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…’’ but alas, the man Mandela had sung the nunc dimitis after a life of dedicated service to his people and fulfillment of his dreams. The barrage and avalanche of tributes pouring in from world leaders, the small and mighty, pay eloquent testimony to the stoicism and mythical persona that was Mandela. It is heartwarming though to note that Mandela is not only being sung at death but was also celebrated alive. According to the hero of apartheid in his autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ which recounted his release from prison after 27 years, ‘’When I was among the crowd I raised my right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for 27 years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy…’’ These joyful ululations of the life and times of Mandela find voice and resonance in the words of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first indigenous Head of State of Nigeria who said, ‘’Do not wait till death has claimed my soul before you chant your eulogy’’, and that ‘’Post humous praise can reach no goal when man becomes an effigy’’.
It will be stating the obvious saying that Mandela’s life, apart from many other virtues, was ensconced in the tripod genres of Liberation, forgiveness and reconciliation. It may have been the most didactic irony of fate that the man who was given the name ‘Rolinhlahla’-the trouble maker- by his teacher, became not only the peace maker but also the great healer. It will take only a man in the mold of Mandela to throw open his arms in a convivial and affectionate gesture of reconciliation to his jailors who put him away from his family and friends, from his life and dreams. There’s always light at the end of a dark tunnel and a silver lining at the end of every storm thus when light appeared at the end of Madiba’s long tortuous walk to freedom, and like metal put in fire, he came out of the heath that was Robin Island purified, cleansed and glowing like raw gold stowed in a showcase. What other proof that God immerses us in deep waters not to drown us but to cleanse us. We saw a Mandela walking out of prison gates neither with drooping shoulders nor in low spirits but with heads held high. We saw a Mandela who came out of prison not pursuing vengeance and vendetta for according to him; if he didn’t leave his bitterness and hatred behind, it would mean he was still in prison. Rather, we saw a venerable white haired elder statesman brandishing his native Ubuntu - an age long esoteric belief that there is strength in unity. Apartheid was anathema to him and he set about reducing it to a quaint anachronism. Upon casting the slough of imprisonment, Mandela set about in his life-ordained task of healing and reconciliation. To him, an eye for an eye was a mere dissipation of energy that could make the world go blind; a rocking chair that kept us busy but wouldn't take us anywhere. Instead, he directed his anger and angst at the system that put him away at the apogee of his youth and not at the white minority that facilitated it. In his inauguration speech on the 10th of May 1994 as the first black president of post-apartheid South Africa, President Mandela stood before a mammoth and cheering crowd and reassured all South Africans most especially the minority White who thought his presidency would mean reprisals for their barbaric apartheid regime. ‘’The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us…we enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world’’.
Like all great men and women of history, Mandela’s death threw up a cornucopia of twists, turns, ironies and paradoxes. From all the tributes that came from world leaders in near and distant climes, the ones that kept us thinking if their senders hadn’t sent out the wrong messages were the ones from Mandela’s African neighbours. From the cult of sit-tight rulers like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea etc came in messages that belied their political posturings and economic demeanor. Perhaps, top on the list of the tongue-in-the-cheek eulogies came from President Bashir Al Assad of Syria who is at the moment fighting a blood soaked rebellion and revolt against his regime and who is believed in local and international circles to have used chemical weapons of mass destruction on his people. In his tribute, Assad hailed Mandela’s life as an inspiration to freedom fighters and a lesson to tyrants. In his words, Assad said of Mandela, ‘’ Mandela’s life was an inspiration to freedom fighters and a lesson to tyrants, an inspiration in the values of love and brotherhood’’. Continuing, Assad said, ‘’His history of struggle has become an inspiration to all vulnerable peoples of the world, in the expectation that oppressors will learn the lesson that it is they who are the losers’’. In a veiled reference to Mugabe, Assad and a coterie of other world leaders who continue to marlign and hoodwink the inalienable rights of those they rule through power usurpation and despotic stranglations, president Obama, while making a speech at Mandela’s memorial said, ‘’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 world leaders who claim solidarity with Mandela’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people’’.
Mandela’s death also brought together an ensemble of world leaders - compatible and strange bedfellows, friends and foes, capitalism and imperialism, angels and demons, bourgeoisie and proletariats, the good, bad and ugly. The highlight of this admixture was the historic handshake between President Barack Obama of the US and Raul Castro of Cuba whose countries have been having frosty relations following America’s incursion into Cuban soil in the Bay of Pigs of 1946. That handshake was hailed as upholding Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation.
As we clang our cymbals and beat the tom tom in joyous and convivial celebrations of the times and death of Mandela, we should take a sneak peek into our own lives and like the revered and renowned Bishop emeritus Desmond Tutu admonished us at Madiba’s memorial, strive to live the Mandela example.
Mandela may have passed on but his spirit lives on for according to Mitch Albom, ‘Death ends a life, not a relationship’’. From the late US president JF Kennedy, ‘’A man may die, nations may rise and fall but an idea lives on’’. And from Mandela himself, ‘’Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can now rest in peace’’. You came, you saw and you conquered and now it is time to rest in peace. Rest in peace Nelson Mandela. Adieu Madiba. Goodbye Tata. Laa nke oma nwoke oma. Aure voir Monsieur. Masalama habibi. Adios amigos. Auf wiedersehen the giant of history. There was once a man called Mandela. There will never be another like him. Never again.