Mandela Day: Remembering Forgiveness Personified

By Ben Mitu

“Mandela made racism everywhere not just immoral but stupid.” – Tony Blair.

To me, there is no better and precise way of describing this global icon than what the former British Prime Minister said above.

This is resonating as the world stands still in honour of Mandela Day today and always.

Unlike other world Days, Mandela Day is a commitment to daily service to humanity and never an annual event.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

That was part of the famous speech of Nelson Mandela on the 12 of June 1964 when he and seven other dogged comrades were sentenced through the infamous Rivonia trial to life imprisonment.

With a youthful vigour, a restlessly inventive spirit and revolutionary capacity and the strength will to dream and dare, he was not deterred by any obstacle that will stand on his way to liberate his people.

His been at the forefront and a symbol of the struggle and reconciliation, earned him and his comrade’s life imprisonment in 1964.

While at the Roben Island, the spate of tragedies and excruciating experiences he went through prepared him to be an embodiment of love and forgiveness because his mother died in 1968 and his eldest son, Thembi in 1969 and his oppressors denied him the right to attend their funerals – the height of inhumanity. Yet, as a hard-nosed anti-apartheid icon, with an iron determination, credible vision, will power, courage, strength and who believed that there is nothing he set to achieve that is impossible, he defied insurmountable odds for the sake of his people as he spent a better part of his life in the darkest and most isolated side of prison.

As a symbol of resistance, freedom, sacrifice, humility and selflessness, he vehemently resisted all attempts to get compensated to forfeit the struggle as he said, ” the struggle is my life.” And as it is often said, fate bends rules for its heroes, the life sentence passed in 1964, ended in 1990 after he had spent ten thousand and fifty-three days behind bars going through the most harrowing, traumatic and humiliating experiences.

Nelson Rohilahlah Mandela gloriously came out of the gate of Roben Island with a refreshing menu of all-inclusive global non-racial idea and he was ranked as a global icon with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr in recognition of his selflessness, courage, and unprecedented sense of forgiveness.

Despite its length and its hard labour, his imprisonment did not embitter him, rather, it filled him with grace and finally emptied him of any desire for vengeance against his tormentors as he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that will lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.”

His life showed that there is no genuine suffering for a course that is not redemptive even if it embiters, it ends up edifying the soul and finding for it a place in the ultimate Hall of Fame – immortality.

He believed nobody is safe if anybody is unsafe; and the rights that he defended and the freedoms that he fought for were the property and denied birth right of all those who believed in them, those who didn’t, those who fought with him, those who fled from the scene, those who opposed him as well as those who helped him.

In 1994, Madiba voted for the first time in his life in an election he vied for the Presidency and after winning the election overwhelmingly, laid the example of how not to self-perpetuate in power with his lifelong and protracted commitment, he voluntarily relinquished power and party leadership in 2004 after serving one term and despite the pressure to re contest and even when the ovation was at its peak. He said ” there are better South Africans than me.” This is unparalleled in Africa where rulers amend their countries’ constitutions severally to allow them rule for decades till they breath their last.

In a world depleted of heroes and models, Mandela stood tall as the 21st hero with legendary exploits and contributions, a face of the world’s struggle for the ideal of truth, Justice and ultimate freedom of mankind as he showed restraint when he could have used power to settle scores with his captors.

He distinguished himself as a man of immense integrity, enviable humility, and astute gentility who fought social, economic and political injustices. Madiba remains the only legend whose birthday July 18 was declared by the United Nations’ General Assembly, as Mandela Day while still alive.

As a living sacrifice, a unifying force and a conscience of a wounded South Africa, he taught the nation to forgive when it could avenge, to embrace when it could despise and to unite when it could stand apart.

Just like every mortal, Madiba had his flaws which made some of his compatriots unhappy with him, for instance, they had wanted him to deal negatively with his oppressors having taken over leadership but his magnanimity was too elastic that he rather embraced them and finally his separation with his wife, Winnie is another stain that will linger in the minds of many South Africans.

Sadly, on the 5th of December 2013, the global icon succumbed to the sentence that was without appeal.

With his death, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the less privileged and those in chains have lost a tireless advocate a mentor, a fighter, a father, an indomitable public litigator, an uncommon character, a moral voice and the conscience of the world.

 After his demise, the world has been paying tribute, flags in many countries flown at half mast, South Africans said he raised the standard of humanity.

As the then American President, Barack Obama puts it, “We will not likely see the likes of Mandela ever again.”

These are few of the numerous tributes which is almost impossible to bring them here as in the words of former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, “it is hard to find the words to do justice to Mandela, because he wasn’t one of the great men of the last century, or of this…he was head and shoulders above anyone else from the last century.”

Like diamond, Madiba inspired legacies, his coming to power exposed a personality that was committed to service to father land, his stance on development policies showed he had remarkable degree of consistency.

While it is a truism the popular quote from Shakespeare that, ” the evil that men do live after them, but the good is often interred with their bones.” Mandela’s case is exceptional as his good deeds have immortalized him.

Celebrating him is not for longevity, nor for a long rule, but short and purposeful, not for how much dollars in banks, nor mansions across the world. He left values and virtues, he remains the lyrics for singers, reference for patriotism, model for visionary leadership, inspiration for gallant struggle for good of society, benchmark for probity and hallmark for discipline and transparency.

Madiba’s life is a manual of how to live a fulfilled life and his legacies are monuments to be studied and revered for generations.

Mitu writes in commemoration of the 2023 Mandela Day. The day is celebrated on July 18 every year.

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