Among other things, history is basically about facts. Conventional wisdom teaches us that when in doubts, we should consult history. Which we propose to do now—in order to better situate Nelson Mandela and his struggle in the broader, historical and international perspective.
FIRST, RELIGIOUS LEADERS: History records that many of them came on earth at different times and places to help or save humankind. Take only a few examples of the most prominent ones: Jesus Christ—the central figure of the Christian religion—was born in AD 28-30. Mohammed—the prophet and founder of Islam—was born sometime in 570. Buddha—the father of Buddhism—arrived sometime in 563 BC. There have been many Gods, Goddesses and sages of Hinduism in the Indian subcontinent—at different times and regions. History testifies that all the above-mentioned religious leaders excelled in their rescue mission. Each and every one has his/her “pesant d’or” in the history of mankind. Please note: All of them did not appear at the same time and place!
Apartheid and oppression blessed
by Western powers
SECOND, WORLD LEADERS AND REVOLUTIONARIES: We’ll refer to but five of them. Confucius—the Chinese philosopher from 551 to 479 BC—outshone by his system of philosophical and ethical teachings. Mahatma Gandhi—the Indian spiritual and political leader from 1869 to 1948—retaught the world the importance of truth, non-violence and civil disobedience. Not only India was liberated from the clutches of the British Empire—but also other oppressed colonies of the latter across the world. Martin Luther King—American civil rights leader from 1929 to 1968—opposed discrimination against the blacks through non-violent resistance and peaceful mass demonstrations. He brought about a drastic change in attitudes not only in America but also in other parts of the planet. It was Gandhi revisited! Not long ago now: Mother Theresa—Roman Catholic nun and Indian missionary from 1910 to 1997—caught world attention by her nonstop dedicated hard work among the poor of Calcutta!
THIRD, NELSON MANDELA: More recently, came Nelson Mandela on the world stage. As it is, his life history—from 1918 to date—clearly personifies a bit of all the religious, social and political revolutionaries cited above. One day, history will undoubtedly compare him to most of them! Remember: All came to serve mankind in their own way.
Just imagine Nelson Mandela’s epic struggle to liberate South Africa from the claws of not foreigners or colonizers from abroad but from those of his own fellow white countrymen. Most ominously, they were more dangerous, beastly, brutal, heartless and barbarous than the then European colonizers elsewhere.
From 1948 to 1990, South Africa witnessed a white minority rule based on a system of racial segregation or discrimination: 10% ruled over 80%. History tells us that the Pieter Botha butchers were all escorted, shielded, befriended and blessed by most of the Western countries: The very ones who had founded the United Nations in 1945 to protect and propagate human rights and democracy. What a crowning twist of irony! Yet another awkward paradox: It was Margaret Thatcher who was the shield and cover of the apartheid regime.
Rare capacity to forget, forgive, lead and unite
Also, consider the racial discrimination, oppression, marginalization, prejudices and human suffering under the 42 years—white minority rule of the Afrikaner National Party. From 1948, the political and social system—apartheid—was extended and institutionalized year after year. Only white South Africans had political rights, consideration, respect and privileges. The majority—80% blacks—had none! There were separate schools, roads, pavements, buses, commuter trains, railway stations, churches, shops, markets, hotels, restaurants, beaches, Courts of law—you name it, for them all.
Still, racial discrimination was enforced with an iron fist with the Police, the military and the judiciary enjoying unlimited and unaccountable powers. Thousands of blacks were killed, nay murdered or thrown behind bars—with total impunity. Most of the opinion leaders—campaigning for equal rights—were exterminated.
No surprise that many either left South Africa and operated from abroad or they went underground. Nelson Mandela was but one of them. History testifies that many of his close friends of the ANC and relatives were tortured and assassinated by the white regime. It was systematic ethnic cleansing. He himself was caught in 1962 and brought before a Court of law. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. His 26 years detention, at Robben Island high-risk prison, cost him his health. How did he survive? Well, he was born a fighter to never give up!
All this is true—but what makes him great among the greatest? Imposing among the towering? Well, he symbolizes a part of all the religious and social world leaders named above: He forgot and forgave when he was released from prison in 1990. He rose above the melée to look beyond the horizon and succeeded in pulling the entire nation behind him. He had only one agenda: that of South Africa and all its population—without discrimination. He governed and led by example.
Special Nelson Mandela Day to unite the nation
Equally important: Unlike other African leaders, he voluntarily relinquished power in 1999. And withdrew to a normal life. He never interfered in the affairs of the ANC or the government. Nor did he impose any of his children or close ones on the ANC leadership. No dynasty rule!
In a sense, he was even better than Mahatma Gandhi—who could not stop the partition of India with all its devastating consequences. Worldwide, Nelson Mandela is more remembered, appreciated and respected than many past world religious and political leaders. That’s his greatness. Is there any other Nelson Mandela in today’s world? Who can fill the void left by the international icon?
How to honour him and his legacy—so that future generations can remember him and draw inspiration from his work? Exceptionally, the National Assembly can be convened to debate a motion on him. The date of his birthday can be declared a Nelson Mandela Day. Many events can be organized to educate and warn mankind on the scourges of all forms of discrimination. In addition, Mauritius can take the lead in the African Union or at the UN to declare it an international Mandela Day. School textbooks on his life could be of great importance. The MBC/TV should focus on him and his work for many days. All said, there can be many other non-political intelligent programmes to honour the man and unite the Mauritian nation.
And finally, people like Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela rarely come to this world. Mandela symbolized a bit of all of them. He, too, came to redress and restore the proper natural balance. Let’s not forget that!