I AM not sick, I am old,” remarked Madiba in Joahannesburg late January in year 2011. That was after his admission in a Johannesburg hospital for some “specialised tests” . Undoubtedly the former South African President had faced a number of health challenges in recent times, notably “respiratory infections”.
Health challenges are certainly not unconnected to the condition at the notorious Robben Island prison in the 1980s, where the legendary leader contracted tuberculosis. This nonetheless, Mandela’s remark two years ago, remains a worthy reminder that a man in his 90s is definitely not young even if not haunted by any affliction.
Nelson Mandela turned 95 on July 18. The occassion of Mandela Day (an annual international day commendably adopted by the United Nations) offers an opportunity to re-echo the old freedom fighter that he is truly old not necessarily sick. Or better still to remind ourselves that Madiba suffers a natural inevitabe illness; old age and that other ailments are mere compliments.
This message assumes much relevance today because not few of his millions of admirers (including yours comradely) almost gave in to despair and some agonising since he was admitted more than a month in the hospital with all the attendant global hysteria. It is ever refreshing to read that Mandela is responding to treatment in a condition that is “critical but stable” .
However, the admirers of the global icon must know that immortality is not the way of Nelson Mandela; what matters in the final analysis is Mandela’s deeds. Immortality belongs to God! Let’s celeberate his life and not agonise over his failing health. There are as many quotable quotes of Nelson Mandela on the inevitability of death and his preparedness for it perhaps as much as his quotable quotes on life, freedom and liberty.
The famous speech by Neldon Mandela was at the 1964 Rivonia Trial which sentenced him and others to life imprisonment for daring to overthrow the hated apartheid order. That historic speech alluded to the inevitability of death as much as the desirability of freedom and liberty. Witness him: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.
I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. 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.”
It is a great paradox of fate that though he prepared to die, he indeed actually realised the vision of a free and democratic South Africa though with personal sacrifices of 27 years in prison.
Hundreds of thousands killed during apartheid were actually not as ‘lucky” as Nelson Mandela as it was a luck to come out alive after what Mandela himself called “wasted” 27 years in prison. In a 1996 documentary, Mandela said: “Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is , therefore , why I will sleep for… eternity”.
And that is precisely what UN Mandela Day is all about: let’s put up some efforts for our people and country so that we can sleep for eternity. The main objective of Mandela Day is to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for public good. Ultimately the day seeks to empower communities everywhere”.
At 95 Nelson Mandela even on a sick bed remains a living moral authority with such global outreach that many a canonized saint hardly covered. Let’s us note that there are scores of retired and even serving heads of states or “King-kongs” of some states like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe whose birthdays and even health conditions are of no positive relevance to humanity than the cronies around them.
What then makes Nelson Mandela special? It is remarkable that though Mandela was the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, he is less remembered for his presidency ( which he commendably left after an eventful one term , not third term!). His enduring legacy was his unique ability to forgive those who jailed him for 27 years and for being a symbol of reconciliation in a nation polarized along ethnic, racial and class cleavages.
Though South Africa still remains a polarized country(largely between thr rich and the poor), the Mandela brand links all the polarities in the country together and reminds each of the contending elements of the virtues of sacrifice, forgiveness and reconciliation. This is his greatest legacy to South Africa in particular and to humanity in general. Remember Malala the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who on October 9, 2012, escaped assassination attempt by the Talibans. She was actually shot “on the left side of her forehead.”
Remarkably in her speech to the United Nations last week to mark her 16th birthday (witnessed by UN secretary-General and former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown), Malala said she had since forgiven the assassins. According to Malala, the inspiration for non-vengeance and compassion comes from “…from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus christ and Lord Buddha and…. the legacy of change that she said she Iinherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah”.
Malala was not even born when in 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison, yet his deeds with respect to forgiveness has captured the imagination of Malala so young! We were enjoined to spend 67 minutes to do something positive to serve humanity as part of Mandela Day.
Mr. ISSA AREMU is Vice President, Nigeria Labour Congress.