By Charles Kumolu
It was a death not foretold but largely expected, leaving in its trail an outpouring of uncommon tributes from hitherto known friends, foes, dissidents, antagonists, protagonists and perhaps loners speaking with one voice. But that is one of the many surprising ironies of life, international diplomacy and gesture.
While these could be regarded as the ironic reality of Nelson Mandela’s demise, it vividly captures the sheer hypocrisy which global leaders use in achieving political objectives.
However, looked at from whichever prism, the uncommon tributes pouring in from global leaders following the exit of the former South African President are uncommon and can only come once in life time.
The development appears to have cast a pall on the acclaimed ideology of these leaders, who, before now, were known to have largely acted and are acting in breach of the ideals that Mandela lived for and represented.
In fact, the striking aspects of Mandela’s political legacy, which are non-violent revolution and peaceful resistance, reconciliation, selfless leadership, do not seem to matter to some of these leaders.
That is why the tributes are being dismissed in some quarters as coming from those, who are hardly on the same page with Madiba, particularly on issues that relate to global peace.
And these unusual tributes and dirges speak volumes about the matter:
President Assad of Syria, who is currently fighting a revolt against his rule, said Nelson Mandela’s life was an inspiration to freedom fighters and a lesson to tyrants.
If there was any joke regarding the barrage of condolence messages, it is the one sent by Assad of Syria. For a ruler who has virtually destroyed his own country because he is waging a war against those he termed terrorists, the joke is on him. Inspiration and lesson! May be Assad sent out the wrong condolence message.
US. President Barack Obama
“Mandela no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages.
“Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us,” Obama said. “His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better.
“The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not their fears,” Obama further said. “I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.” Obama’s tribute is understandable. At least he claims that the man shaped his political career and the American President does not appear to be doing a bad job.
A cross-section of the Chinese society, from the ruling Communist Party’s leadership cadre to scholars and activists pushing for political change, also mourned the passing of Mandela, triggering debates and difficult questions. The country’s Vice President, Li Yuanchao, on Friday, went to the South African Embassy in Beijing to mourn the death of the country’s former president.
Li stood in silent tribute in front of a bust of Mandela and signed a book of condolences.
Li said Mandela spent all his life advocating and implementing racial equality and reconciliation. He not only was a hero in the heart of South Africans, but also won global recognition, Li added.
Stressing that Mandela had made great contributions to the establishment and development of friendly cooperation between China and South Africa, Li said his unfortunate death had led Chinese people to lose a close friend.
He expressed deep condolences on behalf of the Chinese government and Chinese people.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, on Friday, that a Chinese leader will attend the ceremonies arranged by South Africa to mourn the passing of Mandela.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have sent messages of condolence to South African President Jacob Zuma to express their heartfelt sympathies.
But the question on many lips remain: Does China or its leaders have anything in common with the ideals of Mandela?
Queen Elizabeth II said she was “deeply saddened” to learn of Mr Mandela’s death, describing him as one of the towering figures of the 20th century who inspired young and old with his fight for equality. Meanwhile, she was on the throne while the apartheid regime got endorsements from the Crown for decades.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron: “One of the brightest lights of our world has gone out”
Pope Francis said Mr Mandela had forged “a new South Africa built on the firm foundations of non-violence, reconciliation and truth”. A good man speaketh!
Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “Mandela, having gone through the most difficult ordeals, was committed to the end of his days to the ideals of humanism and justice.”
Pray, was Putin addressing the Russian people or was he performing a ritual and a hollow, very hollow one at that. Would it not have been more honourable if Putin had added something like: “And from this day, I, as the Russian leader, would imbibe and act the ideals of the late sage?”
French President Francois Hollande said Mr Mandela’s message would “continue to inspire fighters for freedom and to give confidence to peoples in the defence of just causes and universal rights”.
Ban Ki-moon: “Let us continue each day to be inspired by Nelson Mandela’s lifelong example”?
Germany’s Angela Merkel said Mr Mandela’s “political legacy of non-violence and the condemnation of all forms of racism” would continue to inspire.
Ghana’s President John Mahama told the BBC Mr Mandela was the greatest African who ever lived.
Senegalese President Macky Sall said “Nelson Mandela was undoubtedly the most influential man of the century”, a “role model for Africans and also for humanity”. He said Mr Mandela gave Africans “pride in being black – a dignity in being a black man”.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta praised him for living “an extraordinary life in a very ordinary way. His legacy encrypts the story of humanity now and tomorrow.” For a man whose case at the International Criminal Court is yet to be resolved it is indeed an irony of “extraordinary” proportions that such a statement came from his office.
President Goodluck Jonathan said Mandela was an “inspiration to the oppressed peoples all over the world” and had made “unparalleled personal sacrifices”.
One of Mandela’s sacrifices was leaving the stage when the ovation was loudest before the setting-in of the law of diminishing returns. Africa needs leaders who would make more of the sacrifices.
Liberia’s President and Nobel peace prize laureate Ellen Johnston Sirleaf told the BBC that Mr Mandela was a constant inspiration and would never be forgotten: “Nelson Mandela lives on as his life will continue to be the guiding light for those who excel, for those who have suffered for freedom and for peace.” Even for a female politician, the last election that brought her back to power and the way the politics of it went cannot be said to be a “guiding light for those” who want to excel in the once war-ravaged country.
Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff said Mr Mandela would “guide all those who fight for social justice and for peace in the world”.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro compared the death of Mr Mandela to the passing of the late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez: “Nine months after the departure of our commander, today another giant of the people leaves this world. Madiba you will live forever!” Perish the thought. On what basis is Maduro comparing Chavez with Mandela? His election to power was a product of debauchery.
Cuban leader Raul Castro said he was grateful for Mr Mandela’s friendship and steadfast support of the Cuban people.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for The United Nations Secreatry Genera, Mr. Ban Ki Moon described him as “ a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration”.