By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor
Tributes and encomiums have been flowing in the way of Africa’s legend and illustrious son, Nelson Rohilala Mandela, who died last Thursday at the age of 95. It is expected and richly deserved for a man who became the icon of the global protest against the politics of institutionalised racism and racial discrimination.
Most interesting tributes have been coming from the governments of those countries whose leadership once supported and promoted the policy of separate development and the brutal suppression of the rights of black people and placed every obstacle on the way of freedom for the late Mandela.
The policy of constructive engagement of US under Ronald Reagan regime and the anti-sanctions campaign of Britain under Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, were used to support the evils of apartheid and to sustain the incarceration of Madiba. These countries insisted that Madiba should renounce violence as a pre-condition to regain his freedom.
He turned downed their demands and preferred to die in jail if that was what would end the policy of apartheid. It is important therefore to state that beyond tributes and encomiums to the late South Africa’s leader, there is the need for world leaders to reflect on the legacies of Madiba.
Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, who was the last Chairman of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid said: “Although we have suspected that the end may be near, the death of Mandela still left me with great sadness”.
He added, “In my capacity as a member of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, I hosted him, at the United Nations when, upon his release from imprisonment, he visited the headquarters of the world body in New York.
The word icon has been over used in recent times but if anyone has earned that description it was Mandela. His impact on South Africa, the African continent and humanity as a whole cannot be quantified”.
Mandela’s kind comes only once in a while. But his legacy would last for centuries.
As the English Romantic poet Percy Shelly put it:”The one remains; the many change and pass.
Mandela was that ‘one’: a great and good man; humble, compassionate and a man for all peoples irrespective of colour, creed, nationality, religion or class”.
Prof. Kayode Soremekun of Covenant University said: “Evidently there is something extra-ordinary about the life of this great man. In the course of his life, he achieved such a turnaround in his existence that he moved from being dubbed a terrorist to being regarded as a saint. It is worthy to note that this Halo which he achieved was unconsciously made possible by his enemies. And such is his largeness of heart that after a 27-year incarceration, revenge was not his watchword, rather, in deed and in words, he preached reconciliation and forgiveness.”
According to Soremekun, South Africa, today, continues to be a fractious social formation but, in spite of this divisive factor, Madiba continues to be a rallying point for South Africans of all races.
He pointed out: “As the tributes continue to pour in from all parts of the world and within South Africa, we may want to pause here and say that it is easy to pour encomiums on Mandela, but how many of us can really live up to the minimal ideals of the great man? Starting from South Africa where he is revered by all including members of the political class and in view of the serious allegations of corruption which continue to stare us in the face by the day, it is easy to see that pouring encomiums on Mandela is the easy part living up to his ideals is quite another thing.
“Beyond South Africa to the wider African continent, the same observation can be made. In a continent crawling with despots of various descriptions, the Mandela example is very rare”.
Even the Western world is not free from this charge of double standards and hypocritical post-humous encomiums.
The Western world has moved from vilifying Mandela as a terrorist to referring to him as a great man. Indeed on a single day at a ceremony in London, around 50 universities gave him honorary doctorate degrees.
Meanwhile, Madiba had cause to be at odds with the Western world in view of his support for countries like Cuba and Libya.
Dr Newton C. Jibunoh, the Chairman of Fight Against Desert Encroachment, said “his passing away, though expected, remains difficult to accept as there can be no other Madiba in the whole world and with the way things are in the global arena, there doesn’t seem to be any around the corner and that makes it very painful”.Jibunah added, “Everyone, young and old, had somebody they could look up to and aspire to be. I am personally aggrieved as he has been an inspiration to me for almost 50 years and served as the mentor I aspired to become, leading to me risking my life three times to cross the Sahara desert”.
Prof. Akin Oyebode of Faculty of Law, University of Lagos said Mandela was an avatar, a legend. “He would be remembered more than anything else for his dogged commitment to the cause of his people, tenacity of purpose, strong will and uncommon sense of self sacrifice. We should all learn that life is not measured by material possession but one’s ability to make the world a better place,” Oyebode added.