by F R Chowdhury


History will remember all these three persons but for different reasons. It will be worthwhile to analyse each one, one by one. We should learn our lessons from history.

Nelson Mandela was a member of the African National Congress (ANC), the one formed during the apartheid regime in South Africa for the liberation of majority blacks. Those of our young readers who do not know much about those white minority rules – you will find it very strange to understand. By law the white people were considered a superior race. The best facilities of the state were reserved for them. Blacks were not allowed any access there. The best schools, hospitals and other facilities including sports complex, park and gardens were also separate. The banks and post offices had separate booths for blacks and whites. Blacks were employed only as cleaners or gardeners. The boss had to be a white man or woman. The black man or woman could not travel in First Class on the Railway or have dinner in a top restaurant even if s/he had the money for it. There was total segregation. There was not anything known as human rights not to speak of equal rights or freedom of expression. Many would be surprised to know that US army used to have separate units for whites and blacks until 1952. This integration was possible because of an Executive Order by President Harry Truman in 1948 followed by action of General McArthur during the Korean War in 1952.

When the ANC realised that it was not possible to obtain freedom through peaceful means alone then only it started its violent struggle. To suppress this movement the white regime banned ANC as a party and all its activities. The members of the ANC were declared terrorists. Nelson Mandela being a top terrorist had no place other than prison. Thanks God, he was not hanged then and there. The actions of the white apartheid regime could not suppress the liberation movement. Mean time the Government tried to negotiate with Mandela in prison by making lot of lucrative offers. Mandela would no negotiate for anything short of total freedom and liberation.

There were demonstration and other movements in many places around the world demanding release of Mandela. The biggest demonstration took place in London, UK both in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square. There was a big musical concert in London where top artists from all over the world participated demanding release of Nelson Mandela. Eventually on 11-February-1990, after spending 27 years in jail, Mr Mandela was released from jail on the orders of another great man Mr. F. W. de Clark, the last white president of South Africa. The president immediately invited Mr. Mandela for discussion and negotiation on the future of South Africa. Together they agreed on democracy with equal rights and justice for all. The president removed all apartheid laws immediately and declared that next election would be held under universal franchise. The two great leaders were duly honoured by Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of the Republic of South Africa in 1994. Soon after becoming president of South Africa, he visited London to say “thank you” and UK acknowledged his contribution to the world community by placing a statue (bronze sculpture) in the parliament square. He served only for one term and retired from political and public life in 1999. On 05-December-2013 the world lost this great leader. The world never before witnessed a gathering of head of states and governments as it happened for the memorial service of late president Mandela of South Africa on 10-December-2013.

Mandela truly believed in democracy where human rights, freedom, equality and justice will flourish. He was certain that if ANC pursued a policy of hatred and revenge then they would be at par with the apartheid regime and no better than them; and the cycle of violence would continue. So he took it up on himself to convince the majority black population that forgiveness is the only way forward to unite the nation and move forward together for prosperity. After 27 years of life in prison, he sat across the table for discussion and negotiation with those who so long kept him in jail, always with a smile on his face. It is amazing that right up to the last day of his life, he never talked of the miseries of his prison life. In his own words, on receiving the news of his imminent release “as I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I did not leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.”

Nelson Mandela acknowledged his election victory by raising his hands with those of FW de Clark, now his Vice-President. Together they kept working for smooth and gradual process of change – nothing abrupt or radical. As president of South Africa he established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act No. 34 of 1995. TRC was a court-like restorative justice body. Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution – a form of self purification. The nation never had to look back. It has been one-way journey to progress and prosperity.

What this great leader did not do – no war crime tribunal, no international criminal tribunal, no grabbing of whites’ property, nothing more than equal rights for war veterans or their dependants and children, no quota system, no attempt for establishing family legacy or for naming everything after his own name.

I shall conclude about Mandela by quoting his words during the 1964 trial charged with sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government –

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Now we shall have a few words about Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia). Despite continued liberation struggle by black majority, the apartheid regime of Ian Smith could not be dislodged. However, Mr. Smith also realised that he could not hold on like that for ever. The solution came through the intervention of the United Kingdom. A general election under universal adult franchise under the supervision of the Governor appointed by the queen brought a black majority rule headed by Robert Mugabe. He became the Prime Minister in 1980 and on 31-December-1987 took over as president. Mr. Mugabe is a virtual dictator being elected in several elections, results of which were decided by him in advance. Anyone who opposed him or his regime was savagely beaten up. It is more than a police state. Mr. Mugabe found a path to cheap popularity by allowing the so-called war veterans to grab the farms owned by whites. With no knowledge or skill the new found wealth was squandered. Corruption got deeply embedded in every level of the administration. Those corrupt officials would not allow Mr. Mugabe to leave power because they will they will have no place to hide. Its national currency lost its value to such an extent that its own nationals would not accept it. The average Blackman is now ten times poorer than they were in the apartheid regime. Meantime the fate of the nation remains tied up with its leader Mugabe.

Finally we shall talk about Field Marshal Idi Amin of Uganda. He thought the prosperous Indian business community was the root cause of poverty for black Ugandans. He let loose a reign of terror on the Indians in his country including looting, burning, killing and raping. Within a few days the economy got stagnant. Then this stupid man thought he reached heaven when he arranged for him to be carried over the shoulders of four white men. Both Mugabe and Idi Amin will remain in history for destroying the potentials of their own countries. Several years later President Moussavini was trying to get those Indian entrepreneurs back to his country to revitalise the economy.

Bangladesh observed three days of national mourning following the death of Nelson Mandela. We could perhaps do better by following his foot-steps. I shall conclude this article by drawing attention of the readers to those things that Mandela chose not to do.

London, 31-December-2013                                             <>


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