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Sharing in Mandela’s legacy

WITH the decision of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly declaring July 18  “Nelson Mandela International Day”, we all now have the historic opportunity to share in the legacy of the legendary Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

The world body decided that with effect from 2010, Mandela’s birthday, July 18 should be observed across the universe to recognise his unquantifiable contributions to world peace, resolution of conflicts, promotion of race relations, human rights and reconciliation amongst peoples.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said the UN resolution which was adopted by consensus “serves as a catalyst for each and every person around the world to realise that they have the ability to change it through action. As Mr Mandela reminded us, ‘it is in our hands’ to create a better world”.

The charities which had initiated the campaign for Mandela Day want the day to inspire people worldwide to embrace the values of Mandela and improve their lives through service to their communities even if it is just to visit the sick or helping to feed the homeless.

Former American president Bill Clinton had signed on to the idea, arguing that: “We each owe it to him to support his work and legacy by doing and living our own as best as we can not just on this day (Mandela’s birthday) but throughout our entire lives”.

In signing the official Mandela Day Volunteer scroll this July 18 when the legend turned 91, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: “He (Mandela)inspires people across the world, across the generations. Indeed Nelson Mandela is a living embodiment of the highest values of the UN. Through long years in prison he maintained steadfast belief in justice and human equality”.

Doubtlessly, this is one of the highest honours possible that can be bestowed on any human being  dead or alive and Mandela richly deserves it. Also, the UN decision-making process can be quite cumbersome with its layers of politics; reaching a compromise even on issues that can be said to be mundane is not easy. So to reach  a consensus  declaring the birthday of an African, an international day is no mean achievement.

Without doubt, the most powerful person of African descent, and perhaps the most powerful man in the world today is President Barack obama of the United States (US). He is the Commander-In-Chief of the most powerful armed forces in the world, controls nuclear power and veto power.

Yet it will be unthinkable for anybody to suggest that his birthday be declared a national day in the US not to mention in the world. But here is Mandela, controlling no armed forces and  having no veto power, being so honoured. This is the power of moral authority which is what Mandela wields.

Very few people have such awesome moral authority in world history such as Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa and of course Mandela. But while such people are usually saint-like in character and are pacifists, Mandela is a fighter who not only refused to turn the other cheek when slapped, but also founded an army whose primary objective was to overthrow an inhuman system by force of arms.

When he was brought to court for treason in 1964, he justified the use of revolutionary violence to bring down the apartheid regime, concluding that: “Even Christ when he was left with no alternative, used force to expel the moneylenders from the temple. He was not a man of violence, but had no choice but to use force against evil”.

Over the years, Mandela refused to renounce violence as a precondition for his freedom and even after his 1990 release, he insisted on continued armed struggle and  sanctions until the democratic process became irreversible.

He had the power to extract a pound of flesh from those who forced him to  waste 27 years of his productive life in jail, yielding him up as an old man, but he emerged from prison not a bitter man but as a strong force for reconciliation and genuine forgiveness. His spirit of forgiveness is unparallel in world history.

As the first democratically elected president of South Africa, he unified the country; neutralised a potentially explosive situation and presented a simple political goal:  “Let there be work, bed, water and salt for all”.

He further consolidated his democratic credentials when despite adulations, and the virtual deification of his person, he rejected a second term in office which was his for the asking. Unlike most politicians, he did not try to impose a successor which he could have done easily.

Internationally, he stood for justice even when the super powers differed. He defied them when necessary. This was the case when they accused Libya of bombing an American passenger airliner across Scotland and imposed a no -  fly ban on Libyan air space. Mandela defied it and challenged the powers to shoot down his aircraft as he flew into Libya.

Yet Mandela is simply a human being imbued with human frailties. His two marriages crashed before he found renewed love in the hands of Graca Machel, widow of the unforgetable African freedom fighter, Samora Machel.  Quite humorous; when he knew his old age can no longer carry his punishing local and international schedules, he told the world: “Don’t call me, I’ll call you”.

Mandela Day is not about speech making; it is how we can contribute to world peace, defend and assist the poor, the homeless, the sick and give hope to the hopeless. It is about fighting , curtailing and eradicating HIV/AIDS and other pandemics, it is fighting for social justice and the right of all human beings to live in peace with their fundamental rights protected. I am happy to see this day, and feel quite  proud to be an African.


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