NEW THINKING—With Joe Bartuah
July 11, 2020: The Madiba: A Legacy of Selflessness
A century and two years ago on July 18, 1918, in a small South African town of Mvezo, the God of our Fathers sent a precious gift to the world. That precious gift to humankind was a baby boy named Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who went on to triumphantly beat all odds, becoming one of the most venerated, inspirational leaders of all time. On May 5, 1995 when Mr. Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black President, he was also the first president ever elected in a multiracial election in his country’s history. Of course, Mandela’s triumph did not come on a silver platter. Instead, it was a culmination of decades of groanings, sufferings, dehumanization, including 27 consecutive years of incarceration on an isolated island. And so, as the great people of South Africa and gallant champions of democratic pluralism around the world proudly commemorate the 102 birth anniversary of the late Madiba this Saturday, it’s imperative, not only for us to vividly reflect on his inspirational legacy of selflessness, but more importantly, for everyone of us, most especially current African leaders, to learn from and scrupulously follow his great, forward-looking examples.
As a young man, Mandela had studied law in college. Certainly, he was not the first black South African to study law, but unlike others, he decided to put his knowledge and wisdom at the service of his people. He had the option to be indifferent, unempathetic to the sufferings of millions of his downtrodden compatriots and dine with the proverbial devil, since he had acquired an elitist academic credential; he even had an option of seeking a job within the system, but he chose to be on the side of the oppressed and dehumanized masses. Fiercely consumed by his ardent desire to serve his people, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1940s.
Because he gallantly chose to be on the side of justice, the apartheid regime subjected him to all forms of torture and dehumanization. The white minority apartheid system had schemed to incessantly intimidate him into submission; into reticence, or acquiescence, but for decades, Mr. Mandela remained principled and resolute, ever determined to unshackle his people from the cruel tentacles of callous oppression.
At his now infamous trial by the apartheid in 1963, Mr. Mandela, then a young, brilliant, activist lawyer declared, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination”, adding, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.” Having fearlessly declared his core political values, the eminent jurist then heralded his unshakable commitment to the global community: “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Even as young as he was then, the brilliance of his leadership acumen was radiating in that famous declaration. Not only that Mandela was opposing white domination, but equally so, he rejected black domination. His goal was to help usher in a multi-racial democracy which ensures socio-political equity along with all of its exemplary attributes, instead of replacing one racial domination with another. As it is often said, a truth crushed to the ground shall rise again. It goes without saying that even though his tormentors were persistently torturing him, yet their collective conscience was severely pricking them about the altruism of his declaration, in which he articulated the sacred principle of mutual respect, mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence.