BEFORE Nelson Mandela ascended to the peak of his political career as South Africa’s president through a multiracial election held in 1994, his country was an international pariah.
Obviously, the apartheid policy of segregating the majority black population from the mainstream of social and political life pursued by the minority white ruling class was the reason. But how could this near impossible task, of reconciling these two hostile communities be achieved? It was the Mandela magic that proved sceptics wrong and achieved the miracle of bringing the diverse ethnic mosaic of South African society under the single roof of what Archbishop Desmond Tutu conceived of and Mandela elaborated upon as a Rainbow Nation.
It was due to his extraordinary leadership qualities that all South Africans listened to him intently, surrendered their hostilities, joined hands and fell to building a new nation. No ‘revolutionary war cry’ was raised by the victorious blacks to spill the blood of the racist white settlers who for centuries enslaved the indigenous black inhabitants of South Africa and subjected them to history’s cruelest, savage and inhumane treatment.
It would be only natural for the black majority people to take bloody revenge against their white tormentors, once they got political power, to right the historical wrong. But the violent culture of extreme bitterness and hatred against one’s political adversary that we are so proud to preach and practice so coolly as something ‘revolutionary’ and ‘sane’ was absent in Mandela’s dictionary of political and personal values. But the white minority was not merely a political adversary! They were outsiders, who forcibly robbed the original inhabitants of everything they possessed followed by centuries of ruthless subjugation.
Considering ourselves in the black South Africans’ place, what would be our response like towards such former tormentors, especially, in our present political mindset? The South Africans are, indeed, lucky to have the gift of a leader of Mandela’s height. As a visionary leader, he could see light years ahead of his contemporaries. Even former apartheid president F.W. de Klerk, who in the post-1994 multiracial government became his deputy, could not but appreciate Mandela’s great qualities. Upon hearing about Mandela’s death, Klerk told the media: ‘…He was a remarkable man – his biggest legacy will be emphasis on reconciliation, a remarkable lack of bitterness….He lived reconciliation. He was a great unifier.”
But Nelson Mandela was not from a different planet and he was not also a stranger to the concept of armed struggle against apartheid rule. He had once secretly gone to Morocco and Ethiopia to take training in guerilla warfare in 1962. He became commander-in-chief of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Even so, unlike other revolutionaries, his philosophy was not one of overthrowing his enemy in a bloody war, but of defending himself against state-inflicted violence.
“My people, Africans, are turning to deliberate acts of violence and of force against the government in order to persuade the government, in the only language which this government shows by its own behavior that it understands,” Mandela explained at that time.
He was tried for going outside of the country illegally as well as inciting strike and was detained for a short period. Then again in the infamous Rivonia Trial he was charged with sabotage and a plot to topple the government. This led to his life imprisonment–a large part of which, some 27 years, he served at Robben Island. The famous hour-long speech that he gave in a defiant mode before the court encapsulates the seminal principles and causes he stood and fought for.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” he said. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”.
Mandela was not an unmixed revolutionary, nor a pacifist. A leader of the masses was he, though with a regal bearing and an air of aloofness about him. Which was the real Mandela? To fully understand him, one has to trace the social and cultural root from which he emerged and from where he was projected on to the political stage of 20th century. He had to face the leadership challenge of the millennia. That is why he could not be but complex: he had to incorporate in him at once the character of the headman of a patriarchal tribal society, the attributes of a revolutionary to wrest freedom of his people from the domination of a regime whose behaviour was a throwback to the slave-owning society and then take his people out of this time-warp into a free democratic society at the dawn of 21st Century. And it was this complexity of his personality that made him so unique and different from all other leaders of his time.
Source: The Daily Star