9th December, 2013
Former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa dies after a long battle with illness
It was at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, London, during the well-attended red carpet premiere of the new movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, on Thursday 5 December 2013. Prince William and his wife, Kate, were among the well-heeled society people present. Also in the hall were British actor, Idris Elba, who acted Mandela in the movie, and Naomie Harris, who played the role of Winnie, Mandela’s former wife. So also were Mandela’s daughters, Zindzi and Zenani.
Before the movie was to begin, news had filtered in to the duo that Mandela had joined his ancestors. But they did not want to create panic. The two ladies kept the matter to themselves. However, they gave William and Kate the benefit of hearing the information first. The couple left thereafter, with William saying: “It’s extremely sad and tragic news.” After the premiere, the news was broken to the audience, who held a two-minute silence in Mandela’s honour. Indeed, Africa has lost one of its front row icons, Dr. Nelson Mandela, anti-apatheid fighter and first black president of South Africa. He was 95.
In South Africa, however, there was no reason to keep the information under wraps. According to incumbent president of that country, Jacob Zuma, “We have lost our greatest son.” Of course, Mandela was not only a son of his country, he, according to US President Barack Obama, “belongs to the ages”.
True. When he lived, his image loomed large beyond his country and he became a positive reference point on how great presidents should carry themselves, especially in a continent swarming with political scallywags in civilian and military uniforms, riding rough shod over their own people and sitting tight, Mugabean style!
His Battle With Disease
He was admitted into hospital in February 2011 for a respiratory infection. In December the following year, he was re-hospitalised for the same ailment and gallstone removal. When his lung infection relapsed in March 2013, he was briefly hospitalised in Pretoria. His condition became worse on 8 June and he was again hospitalised in the same city after which he was said to be in a “serious but stable condition”.
However, on 23 June, Zuma told South Africans that Mandela’s condition had become critical. Thus, Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa, held a meeting with Graca Machel at the Pretoria hospital over Mandela’s state. That his situation became grim was reflected on 25 June by Thabo Makgoba, Cape Town Archbishop, when he prayed with Graca “at this hard time of watching and waiting”.
On 26 June, euthanasia was to come into play when David Smith, a lawyer acting on behalf of Mandela family, claimed in court that Mandela was in “a permanent vegetative state”, a position denied by the Zuma government. Four days before this, Shaun Van Heerdey, Mandela’s former bodyguard, publicly asked that his former boss be “set free”, a euphemism for aiding the man to die.
Since it was against their Hippocratic oath, the doctors refused to aid mercy killing. Thus, on 1 September, they discharged Mandela from hospital, despite his worsening condition.
He died last Thursday.
The Man, Mandela
Born a Xhosa to the Thembu royal family of South Africa on 18 July 1918, Mandela attended the Fort Hare University and the Witwatersrand University, where he studied law.
When he started his law practice in Johannesburg with fellow anti-apartheid activist, Oliver Tambo, Mandela joined the anti-apartheid struggle by becoming a member of the African National Congress, ANC, and a founding member of its Youth League.
When the National Party’s government started in 1948, Mandela too rose in the pecking order of the ANC, taking part in its 1952 Defiance Campaign. In fact, he was in charge of its Transvaal chapter.
As a lawyer, he was always harassed by the South African Police and detained for sedition. Initially, his approach was non-violence. He changed his tactic when, in 1961, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto We Sizwe, MK, in concert with the South African Communist Party. The group carried out many sabotage activities against vital interests of the apartheid government.
Consequently, he was arrested in 1962, tried for treason and, during the Rivonia Trial, sentenced to life in prison. He served, first on Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Vester Prison.
Outside the prison walls, international pressures were mounted on the apartheid regime for Mandela’s release. And this yielded fruit in 1990 when he walked free out of the slammer. Thereafter, he started negotiation with President F.W de Klerk to put a stop to apartheid and make possible a multi-racial election. This happened in 1994 and ANC, with Mandela as its presidential candidate, won.
Despite what he suffered, Mandela had the large heart to forgive his tormentors. Thus, as president, he promulgated a new constitution and initiated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look into human rights abuses of the past.
Some of the positive legacies of his administration are a liberal economic policy, land reform, fight against poverty, expansion of healthcare services and others.
And as an international statesman, he acted as mediator between Libya and the UK on the Pan Am Fight 103 bombing trial and he was part of those who mounted international pressure on the Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha. Although he wanted to take it easy with the Nigerian dictator initially, Mandela became angry when Abacha executed Ken Saro-Wiwa, the environmental activist and leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People. In fact, it was as a result of this that Nigeria did not participate in the January 1996 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, in reaction to the way Mandela attacked Abacha over his regime’s execution of Saro-Wiwa in November 1995. The Abacha regime insulted the old man, arguing that his long years in prison had made him to ooze out criticisms against it!
Mandela critics say he bought wholsesale his predecessor’s economic policy, which did not make it possible for blacks who took part in the struggle to become educated, however old they were. A result of this is what the present day South African government and people is contending with – an army of untrained men and women.
This notwithstanding, Mandela set a good example for other African leaders by quitting the stage while the ovation was loudest. He refused to run for a second term. He was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Moreover, he did not insist to be flown to a Western or Indian health intitution for treatment, the way some leaders would travel to hospitals in far-flung locations to treat ailments ranging from influenza to craw-craw! At his retirement, he established the Nelson Mandela Foundation, devoted to fighting HIV/AIDS and poverty.
As a towering world figure, Mandela received more than 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Soviet Order of Lenin and the Bharat Ratna (Gem of India in English), the Republic of India’s highest civilian award. Mandela, Madiba for style, died on 5 December in Johannesburg.