Mandela on his centennial

Walid M. Abdelnasser
Friday 7 Sep 2018

Exceptional leaders are often born out of exceptional circumstances, epitomised in the life of Nelson Mandela, the centennial of whose birth passed recently

Many countries, international and non-governmental organisations, as ‎well as academic and research institutions all over the world, recently ‎celebrated the centennial of the birth of the great late South African leader Nelson ‎Mandela.

During his lifetime, Mandela became an icon whose ‎fame and status went far beyond the national borders of his country, not ‎only to the rest of his African continent, but to each and every ‎part of the globe.‎

The significance of Mandela is definitely multi-faceted. He wore many ‎hats and combined many characteristics and qualifications that made ‎him quite unique in the march of humankind in the second half of the ‎20th century and in the early years of the 21st century.‎

Nelson Mandela started originally as a freedom fighter in the ranks of ‎the African National Congress (ANC). He proved that he was one who ‎continuously fought for a democratic, just and multi-racial society and ‎country. Despite the civil and political oppression, socio-economic ‎exploitation and deprivation, as well as racial segregation and cultural ‎repression the Africans in South Africa suffered under the “Apartheid” ‎regime, Mandela did not fight for the elimination of the other party, ‎namely the Afrikaans, or the whites in general, but rather for the ‎dismantling of the “Apartheid” regime, and the establishment of a ‎‎“new” South Africa, based on freedom and democracy; equal citizenship ‎rights among the whites, the Africans, the coloured and the Indians; ‎equality before the law; social justice; economic equity; unity and ‎solidarity of society at large; and free expression of everyone’s culture ‎as long as it does not incite hatred towards the “other.”

Mandela proved also to be a great statesman and politician. When he ‎was arrested and sent into exile on Robben Island in the early 1960s, he ‎did not try to avenge by calling for violence against white civilians, but ‎rather looked, with a far-sighted strategic vision, for the long term ‎interests of his people and country. Whether when on Robben Island ‎or after his release in 1990, Mandela consistently adopted a principled ‎stand, tempered by realism. Although he did not ‎bargain regarding his overall national objectives, he had shown on many ‎occasions a lot of flexibility, willingness to adjust to what exists on the ‎ground, as well as preparedness to adapt to developments and to move ‎from maximalist and immediate demands for change to gradual and ‎incremental ones.‎

Yet, Nelson Mandela went in his fame and popularity one step ‎further when he was elected president of the “New South Africa.” He ‎insisted to be the president of “all South Africans." To this ‎end, he employed a number of tools and instruments, which led to all ‎South African citizens — whatever their racial origin, colour, tribal ‎affiliation or ideology — genuinely feeling that their country ‎belonged to them all.

Consequently, a sense of ownership of their ‎country developed and became deep-rooted inside each and every citizen. For the benefit of his country, this meant that the whites, coloured ‎and Indians did not feel threatened by the rule of the majority-elected ‎ANC, which was unto itself a multiracial party, but naturally ‎predominantly African. This policy of Mandela also meant that no ‎sweeping nationalisations took place and no deliberate policies aimed at ‎coercing part of the population, particularly the whites or the most ‎affluent among the Africans, were pursued. Mandela proved that he ‎learned the lessons of other previous experiences on the continent and ‎beyond it.‎

The next significant milestone in the long march of the late ‎Mandela was when his first term in the presidency elapsed and he insisted ‎on maintaining his position of not running for a second term, in ‎order to ensure during his lifetime, and at the height of his popularity, the ‎democratic and peaceful transformation of power in the new multi-‎racial South Africa. Although he was not the first historical African ‎leader and president to take such a decision, it was a long time since other ‎African leaders took similar decisions — the Senegalese Leopold ‎Senghor and the Tanzanian Julius Nyerere are just two examples in this ‎respect.

This decision turned Mandela into a South African, African, and ‎global leader of legend. From then onwards, Mandela spent a lot ‎of his time mediating different conflicts inside the African continent ‎and beyond it, as well as touring many parts of the world upon invitation ‎from governmental and non-governmental organisations to share the ‎lessons learned from his very rich, long and diverse experience. He also ‎assigned a lot of time to launching and supporting initiatives inside his ‎country aimed at the empowerment of the most vulnerable ‎sectors of society.‎

However, one could argue with ease that the most outstanding and ‎sustainable landmark made by the late Nelson Mandela, after his ‎voluntary withdrawal from internal South African politics, was taking ‎the initiative of establishing "The Elders," an independent global ‎group of former world leaders whose secretariat is based in London. The group is composed of legendary figures from ‎different parts of the world, each of whom made outstanding contributions in their lives.

"The Elders” includes in its membership, for ‎example, figures such as the former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar ‎Brahimi, two former United Nations secretary generals: the late Kofi ‎Annan and Ban Ki-moon. It also includes in its membership the former ‎Irish president and the first United Nations High Commissioner for ‎Human Rights Mary Robinson, former United States President ‎Jimmy Carter, the first female prime minister of Norway and former ‎director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Gro Harlem ‎Brundtland, former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari, and the ‎famous Nobel laureate, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.‎

"The Elders” as a group has tried to be active since its establishment ‎regarding a number of problems, challenges and crises that humanity ‎has faced. The group attempted to send ‎delegations to visit zones of conflict, to meet with relevant parties and ‎stakeholders, and to issue reports with specific recommendations aimed at ‎achieving world peace and security, as well as justice and welfare for ‎humanity at large.‎

The above was just an attempt to shed some light on a number of ‎important milestones in the life of the late Nelson Mandela, who became a legend within his lifetime and will continue to be.

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