Thursday, July 18, 2019 marks the 101st anniversary of the birth of the late South African President, Mr. Nelson R. Mandela. As columnist Joe Bartuah reflects on the legacy of the late renowned revolutionary leader, he’s also urging contemporary African leaders to make scrupulous efforts in emulating the inspiring legacy of the late sage.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”—Nelson Mandela
This Thursday, July 18th in South Africa and around the world, students of history, political science, social and economic justice, human rights as well as the progressive community will be commemorating the birth anniversary of a great soul who came into this world 101 years ago. Yes, on July 18, 1918 in the small village of Mvezo, the Right Honorable, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born unto a humble family in South Africa and from a very humble beginning, he rose to become a revered global icon of resistance to injustice, due to his relentless struggle for social and economic equity in his native South Africa and around the world.
For Mr. Mandela, improving the livelihood of his people, ensuring their dignity as human beings and the betterment of his country were much more paramount than amassing riches overnight. For 27 unbroken years, his personal freedom was shackled; he was brutalized and dehumanized, yet his resolve to relentlessly fight on for social justice remained resolute. As a result of his epic struggle, the gentleman that his fellow compatriots came to simply regard as the Madiba (father the nation), is globally remembered as a pre-eminent champion of democratic pluralism, not only for what he heroically did, but also for what he deliberately did not do.
As Africans and black people around the world, we must take pride, not only in celebrating this day, but also be grateful to God Almighty, who, in his infinite wisdom, decided 101 years ago, to share this exemplary soul with the African continent and the global community of Black People. We all have reasons to celebrate, to commemorate and immortalize the memory of Mr. Mandela, because through his impeccable character, his cavalier resolve in resisting injustice, his sterling leadership acumen and his unshakable commitment to democratic precepts, he singularly set an exemplary standard for integrity and human development, which will continue to inspire generations around the world.
Mr. Mandela set an exemplary standard because he gallantly led his country from being an international pariah to a burgeoning majoritarian democracy. He set an exemplary standard because he helped decimate the yoke of inhumanity, otherwise known as apartheid. He set an exemplary standard, because he laid a formidable foundation for racial diversity and racial tolerance. He set an exemplary standard because he helped Africans and other non-white South Africans to embark on the arduous path of eventual economic success. Yes, Mandela set an exemplary standard because he helped galvanize the South African nation for a historic transformation.
Lest we forget, besides his numerous exemplary deeds, there are other things that Mr. Mandela, true to his character as a consummate democrat, didn’t do for which he equally became famous and much more renowned. That is, as a leader, Nelson Mandela recognized the inevitability of CHANGE. As an authentic democrat, he believed in the indispensability of an institution rather than an egregious interest of an individual. As a result, he steadily worked towards institutional viability, instead of individual consolidation.
Even though he had endured all the excruciating sufferings in his capacity as the leader of his resistance grouping, upon his ascendancy to the zenith of his country’s political power in 1994, once he ensured that all necessary framework for institutional consolidation and progression had been put in place, Mandela, the foremost democrat prudently decided to call it quits when he felt that it was necessary. Unlike many other African leaders, Mandela did not selfishly change any provision of the constitution overnight, in order to perpetuate himself in power against the will of his people. Even though he had spent 27 unbroken years in jail, he didn’t unnecessarily spend 27 years in power, wasting the precious time of his people. Mandela did not impose his birthday as a national holiday on his people.
Moreover, Mandela did not orchestrate fake coup plots as a ploy to eliminate his political opponents; he didn’t secretly plot motor accidents as a means of murdering his critics, neither did he ensure that his critics “drowned” in mysterious circumstances for him to shed a crocodile’s tears. No, he never stripped naked female opposition politicians as Yoweri Museveni notoriously did in Uganda. Because Nelson Mandela did not engage in such sordid political deeds to put his people in harm’s way, because he eschewed pernicious politics, Africa and indeed, the world is proud to celebrate his legacy of integrity.
For those who might still be harboring some modicum of doubts about the late Madiba’s ingenious leadership prowess, the current political dynamics in South Africa is a conspicuous case in point to confirm the illustrious freedom fighter’s foresight. In 1994, following his release from Apartheid’s penitentiary four years earlier, when his election as the first black president of that great country was imminent, many political observers, including me, had thought that the eminent politician would name Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, then a young lawyer, who, as secretary-general of the African National Congress (ANC), had spearheaded the secret negotiation with then president Frederic W. de Klerk, to secure his release from further detention, as his running-mate.
However, as it is now indisputably clear, the man of wisdom foresaw what many political observers did not see at the time. The Madiba apparently reasoned that since Ramaphosa was still young at the time, just in his early 40s, the future of South Africa belonged to him. Mr. Ramaphosa was not even given a formal cabinet position at the time; instead, Mr. Mandela ensured that Ramaphosa was immersed in the business world, not only to secure needed economic leverage for himself, but to also gain indispensable orientations and insights about how the business world, which is the pivotal core of any economy, actually works.
Another instructive lesson of the Mandela-Ramaphosa narrative is the stark display of party discipline and unshakable commitment to political principles demonstrated by both men at the time. Put another way, when Mr. Mandela named Dr. Thabo Mbeki, the eminent economist as his vice-presidential candidate, Cyril Ramaphosa did not break away from the ANC to form a splinter political group. He did not hastily convene a press conference to denounce and spew invectives at stalwarts of the ANC. And so, as a result of the laudable discipline within the ANC, Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa has now gallantly embarked on a herculean rescue mission in South Africa, attempting to resuscitate an economy in distress, partly due to the authoritarian missteps of Jacob Zuma, the dancing president.
Today, as the world remembers the exemplary leadership of Mr. Mandela and his enormous contributions to the betterment of humankind, the onus is on the current generation of African leaders to do an honest soul-searching as to where they stand on those inspirational democratic principles for which the late Madiba fiercely struggled, suffered and eventually practiced par excellence during his lifetime. Merely issuing political platitudes in remembrance of the late Madiba is not enough; our current batch of rulers across Africa, and particularly in Liberia should strive to learn some lessons from the political footprints of the late iconic leader.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Columnist Joe Bartuah, a 35-year veteran of the Inky Fraternity, is the author of: ”AN AGENDA FOR A BETTER LIBERIA—A Common Sense Approach to Nation-Building”, a top rated public policy book, which is attracting favorable reviews within the Liberian community in the U.S. He’s electronically accessible @firstname.lastname@example.org.