Some of us making statements and eulogizing Nelson Mandela have a deeper understanding of his value to the world because we shared a similar background with him as Africans born and raised in the values of traditional rulers who were lumped together and stereotyped by the British imperialists and colonial masters as “tribal chiefs” to use their exact words. Among my progenitors in Akure, for instance, was 38th Deji of Akure named Odundun Asodedero who ruled Akure with an iron hand from 1882 to 1890. He was known to have ordered his wife beheaded for innocently sharing a joke with him in the bathroom as I hinted in chapter 4 page 62 of my Lion King and the Cubs. Mandela like many of us born with the silver spoon in our mouths, to African Royalties, so to speak, are the inheritors of covenant sins which could have predictably prevented many of us from getting out of the box to see the world for what it really is and to thereby reposition ourselves for greatness like Mandela did.
Some of those chieftains and tribal chiefs or traditional rulers like the great Jaja of Opobo to mention one, were collaborators in selling some of their own people into slavery in exchange for gun powder and items like salt and other condiments brought to our shores by the early British colonial traders and explorers like Mungo Park in Nigeria and Christopher Columbus in Dominican Republic and much of the Caribbean and the new world. Mandela as a prince came from that kind of background. That he could break away from that past to do all that he did for South Africa despite his being persecuted and imprisoned for 27 years of his life without losing his sanity or getting embittered to the point of wanting to wreak vengeance on his oppressors and persecutors and their heirs in South Africa and other parts of the world, speak volumes about his uniqueness as a leader. The white world could try all they want. It is fair to say they can never fully appreciate or understand the place of Mandela in human history. They are all today singing Hosanna and some of them shedding crocodile tears because “an array of knives are bound to surface the day the elephant falls” and because success has many a parents, but failure is decidedly an orphan, if you get my point.
Few of the greatest lessons I am suggesting the whole world must take away from the awe-inspiring life and death of Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela is what this piece is all about. Many a tribute and eulogy have been paid or written on Mandela and a million more are still going to come as the whole world celebrates the greatest African of the 21st century whose final burial is planned for December 15, 2013. The whole world from beginning of creation has arguably had or known a million world leaders from Guinea Bissau to China and Vietnam and from Cape town to to the remotest town in the Tundra region of Canada, but among the few the world will never forget in a hurry is Madiba Nelson Mandela.
“The man now belongs to the Ages” as opined by the first black American Presidents whose political life has been impacted by Mandela. I am talking of Barack Obama whose formative years in politics were shaped or influenced by Nelson Mandela whose determination was to rescue his own people from the strangle hold of the an Apartheid government which was for many years connived at by all of the white world including America, the number one super power. The world would not forget that America, ins pite of her own colonial past, did not remove the name of Mandela from the long list of freedom fighters who were blacklisted by the West as terrorists by conventional wisdom until 2008 when it became clear to America that the Apartheid Regime was unsustainable given the world consensus against it. America had literally looked the other way before then totally ignoring or sweeping under the carpet the injustice perpetrated in South Africa by their own white brothers and collaborators who were bent on dispossessing Africans of their own Papa’s land as reminded us by late music idol, Sunny Okosu of Nigeria, one of the unsung heroes of Mandela’s freedom.
I see some correlation between the Mandela mystique and the proverbial story of the Elephant and the blind man who thought the elephant was a snake after touching or just feeling the long nostril of the elephant. By touching the body of the elephant, the same blind man had believed the elephant had to be a rock or a stone (Okuta rabata sa). By touching the feet, the same blind man had thought the elephant was a stone pillar. So what anybody is saying or writing is often a factor of the personal experience of that individual or what that individual is seeing or feeling at every given moment. By that token, any of the millions of the Johnny-Just-Come Mandela’s admirers around the world, right now, could be making the same mistake the blind man was making by his totally irreconcilable impressions or characterization of the elephant. My point is that perceptions of Mandela are bound to differ from one person or writer to another depending on which aspect of his life and legacies appeal to them. In my own case the greatest lesson Mandela has taught the world is really the only point I want to underscore in this tribute.
I listened with awe and amazement to one of such eulogies from a man who knew Mandela the best because they both come from the same country and generation. The man I am talking about is the retired Archbishop Emeritus of Capetown, the great and eloquent Desmond Tutu another icon in South Africa who delivered one of the most powerful funeral orations I have so far heard on Mandela, following the announcement of his death, to the nation and the world by Jacob Zuma, the 3rd President of free South Africa. Mr. Zuma has followed on the footsteps of Mandela and Thabo Mbeki in that office. Bishop Desmond Tutu described Mandela simply as “the father of South Africa, a world leader and an iconic giant of compassion, magnanimity and reconciliation”. Mandela was ranked in stature with other reputable world leaders around the globe which include icons and avartars of Life like President George Washington (1789-1797), Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) Winston Churchill British Second World War Prime Minister from 1939- 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945), Harry Truman (1945-1953, Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), JFK (1961-1963), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), William Clinton (1993-2001) and of course our own Barack Obama from 2009 till now. The list must include not just politicians but non-political leaders in America and other countries around the world like the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, China, Singapore, India, Pakistan, former Czechoslovakia and many others in the six continents of the world that time will not permit me to mention one by one.
I will be the first to point out that no country has a monopoly of great leaders. The white world who used to look down on colored people as inferior to the white race has been proved wrong by the emergence of Mandela on the world stage. Republicans in America who are hell-bent on de-legitimizing Barack Obama despite his impressive record in office had better take notice that another Mandela was clearly in the making in America and many more are still to come. It should now be crystal clear to the world, white or black, that skin color is no longer a barrier to conquering the human frontier. Given the right climate and education a black or Latino man from some of the remotest part of the world would give their white counterpart a run for their money in intellectual power as clearly proved in America by some distinguished Blacks, Latinos and other minorities who are able to match the whites pound for pound in every area of human endeavor. We are all capable of greatness regardless of our skin color. If there is one overarching lesson Mandela has thought the world, it is that point without any question in my mind.
That Mandela was a child of privilege in South Africa simply means he could easily have sided with the colonial masters and the powers that be in the Apartheid Regime if all he wanted was just comfort for himself and not the greatest good for the great majority of his people. He saw the value of education growing up close to one of the epic centers of poverty around Soweto and he struggled tooth and nail to educate himself becoming a lawyer and using that leverage to free his people from bondage with all the risks involved just like Mahatma Gandhi did in India. Mandela did it despite all the deprivation and solitary confinement he suffered in the hands of his Apartheid oppressors for 27 years in attempt to break his will and spirit. Rather than being broken, Mandela walked out of Robin Island a hero of the South African struggle without any feeling of bitterness towards his oppressors. He emerged with a determination to build a multi -ethnic country where the white and the blacks and the Indians would live side by side in peace and total reconciliation to achieve their full potential. He practiced all of the virtues Martin Luther King had preached or dreamed about. The big difference between Martin Luther King and Mandela was the fact that Mandela has had the good fortune of living long enough to actualize those dreams and to set the best example in selflessness and leadership the world has ever seen. I can see generations of youths all over the world who are inspired by the Mandela mystique to never give up on their convictions no matter the distraction they face. That was surely another lesson to take away from Mandela.
To be a leader you have to be willing and able to follow. Mandela taught the world a lesson on that as well with his relationship with his mentor and leader, the great Oliver Tambo and many of his comrades in arms like the great Walter Sisulu and others who fought with Mandela to finally liberate South Africa with help from the rest of the world. Mandela never failed to acknowledge the contributions of Oliver Tambo as leader of the ANC and the South African Liberation movement. He never failed to acknowledge the inspiration he himself has drawn from other world leaders like Mahatma Ghandhi and Martin Luther King and Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta to mention a few. He was a quick study on how not to overstay his welcome in power. He served only one term as President even though he could easily have remained in power for life if he had wanted to. Unlike Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Mandela knew how to call it quits while the ovation was loudest.
His final burial funeral to be attended on December 15 by no less than 3 former American Presidents and the incumbent traveling together in Air Force One is a first in American history that only a Mandela was capable of bringing about. South Africa is going to be host to no less than 89 Heads of Government. It is going to be the largest number of world leaders, Presidents, Emperors, Kings and Queens who are all going to South Africa to pay Mandela their last respects. The Mandela burial would go down in history as the world’s greatest carnival if you can believe that. Not even the Queen of England or the Pope could match the assemblage of celebrities and royalties to witness the burial of arguably the greatest African of all times.
I want to stress again that Mandela came from a generation of black Freedom fighters like Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Gamel Abdel Nassir, Sekou Toure, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Oliver Tambo, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Walter Sisulu, Marcus Garvey, Medgar Evers, Ndabaningi Sithole and Thurgood Marshall to mention a few who were blackmailed, vilified and pilloried as terrorists by the white world because of their principled opposition to to racial bigotry. Mandela like Obafemi Awolowo and Kwame Nkrumah issued one of the most profound statements ever made by any leader that “Education is the most potent weapon to change the world.” I see his leadership genius and his shining example as his greatest contribution to Mankind. Not even Socrates the world’s greatest teacher could have matched that. Mandela has become a priceless jewel of inestimable value to the black race anywhere in the world.
There are a million things the world may not remember as hinted by Kenny Rogers in one of his once-in-a-life-time country music track, but the contribution of Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela to freedom and reconciliation in South Africa and around the world is one thing the world would never ever forget. Only the Urhobos of Nigeria in their colorful language would have captured the real essence and the true meaning of the Mandela exit from the world of mortals. “Ovie Kpor” the Urhobos would have said meaning “The King has died” In deed he has, and the world would forever live to remember that until another Mandela in the making makes his debut. As a shoo-in for that honor before I end this statement, it is my honor and privilege to predict and nominate another pride of Africa, the first black President of the greatest country on Earth and the Land of the Brave, “Isekosala” “Erediauwa” “Ataiyese” Barrack Hussein Obama. So help us God.
I rest my case.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters