Seven years ago, precisely on Thursday, December 5, 2013, the world was jolted by the news of a colossus who breathed his last. As expected, the entire world was in a frenzy not just mourning his death but also celebrating his life of struggle. Bidding us bye at 95, that global icon of leadership and model of forthrightness, Nelson Rolihlala Mandela, lived a long and fulfilled life before he lost the last struggle, fortunately in the caring hands of his family and loved ones.
The life and career of Nelson Mandela will continue to serve as inspiration to several generations unborn. His legacy will for many years be a barometre by which world leaders, especially of African descent, would be measured. To say Mandela was great in life and death would even be an understatement. He was more than grand as he towered above many acclaimed great men with the totality of a personality that was uniquely Mandelan. His life is a reminder, as Longfellow wrote several years ago, that each person can also leave indelible “footprints on the sand of time” at the end of his/her earthly sojourn.
At that time, fine tributes by prose stylists were written all over the world and thousands of newspapers, and the blogosphere, were filled with the analyses of his life and times. The world has not produced another unifying force that would attract about 90 Presidents to a burial since then and it is doubtful if that will have in many years to come. Certainly, not everyone can ever pay the price Mandela paid by spending 27 years in prison though he had an option of relinquishing his beliefs to regain his freedom.
On a lesser scale, not everyone could also exercise his sense of judgment by leaving office when the ovation was loudest at a time he could have also contested for another term as President of South Africa. Africa is especially plague by the virus of “sit-tightism”, which would make leaders wish to perpetuate themselves in power, but here Mandela was different as he did not even bid for the second term he was legitimately entitled to contest for and most likely win. The reluctance of the American President Trump to accept defeat is another testimony of the absence of the Mandelan spirit in many of our leaders.
Meanwhile, of all what could be attributed to a man of many parts like the late Nelson Mandela, it was his incurable optimism with large heartedness that appears to be most relevant to Africans and the world at large now. Though sentenced to life imprisonment, Mandela believed he had a tomorrow. And tomorrow eventually came and he transformed, by the stroke of fate and forthrightness, from being Prisoner to President leaving a sound lesson for us to serve our education and inner peace: in all situations, don’t despair; there is always tomorrow.
According to Mandela, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lie defeat and death.”
The message of Mandela is optimism and hope in the face of adversity and turmoil. He was a practical manifestation of the dictum, “whatever a man can conceive and believe, he can achieve.” Mandela conceived freedom, believed freedom and achieved freedom. Then, it was freedom at last seven years ago as he would not have to worry about the problems of Africa especially the corrupt leaders and poverty, the latter of which he described as an unnatural phenomenon that could be overcome by the actions of human beings.
As the most populous African country, Nigeria has a plethora of troubles with the ship of state still drifting ominously on unchartered seas. Caught in the tight grip of insurgency, kidnapping, insecurity, poverty, corruption, criminality and man’s inhumanity to man, the average Nigerian lives for the moment. The virus of exploiting the opportunities of today, to cheat and deplete, has deeply afflicted the leaders and followers alike such that it is the quick-fix method that is often sought to systemic problems. The situation is not different for many other developing nations which are grappling with monumental problems that make life Hobbesian for billions of people.
However, remembering Mandela reassures us that there is always hope and we must not lose it. Remembering Mandela would make us to be positive that though times don’t last but tough people do. Remembering Mandela connotes that things would be better and God would make our leaders more compassionate. The touch of optimism must be kept aglow as pessimism leads to despair, despondency, desperation and death whereas optimism enlivens and hope invigorates. For many people, the world is an open prison, as it is for the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang, China, but we should imbibe the Mandela spirit that one day, the world will be right and we shall be free from the shackles of problems that have made life a hellish. As the war-time Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, once said, “If you are going through hell, keep going” Don’t just give up hope.
Then, there is need for forgiveness, compassion and love as demonstrated by the Madiba. Though he spent many years in prison, he should not be there in the first instance, he demonstrated uncommon generosity and large-heartedness towards his tormentors. He excused the prison warders that they were only doing their job. His forthrightness and large-heartedness saved the country from what would have been a paroxysm of civil strife. Without a leader like Mandela, the well-tormented black community would have, in a triumphal ecstasy, retaliated the long years of Apartheid cruelly unleashed on them by the White supremacists.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead into my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison,” Mandela said. Though he wasn’t renowned as a religious person, he demonstrated a great virtue of religion, which many so-called religious leaders lack, and rose above parochial sentiments and selfishness that still define our own global politics. The message of Mandela that is still resounding seven years after is that we should not be chained to the past; we should not consider today’s grace an opportunity to settle yesterday’s scores.
Mandela was open-minded, always irradiating goodwill to all. He bore no resentment to anyone. There is too much hatred around us on racial, ethnic and religious grounds, whereas the essence of religion, which many claim to profess but is often used to oppress, is to love. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” Mandela said. He devoted his life to seeking freedom, preaching love, promoting peace, giving hope and making the world a better place than he met it.
In essence, the everlasting message of Mandela should be imbibed or made to resonate in our society. As part of this message, he said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”