By Garriba Frank and Njouny Nelson
On July 18, 2013, in exactly a month from today, Nelson Mandela might turn 95. I say “might” because with the precarious state of his health today, “Madiba” (his clan name) might not live to see his 95th birthday. He has been hospitalized four times within the last year with a “recurrent lung infection”. Few people believe that diagnosis. Mandela is simply too old now and we must let the old man go “home” no matter how much we think we all love the former anti apartheid hero and South Africa’s first black president.
This Youtube video was shot in 1999 during one of the stage performances of Johnny Clegg, another exceptional South African musician. He was performing his hit song “Asimbonanga”.a tribute to Nelson Mandela. One of the singers brings in a smiling Nelson on stage and he flashes his infectious smile and swings his hands in the air; as only Mandela can.
“it is music and dancing that made me at peace with the world and at peace with myself” Mandela says in the video before calling for an “encore” to the music
That is my abiding image of Mandela I will forever remember, not the expressionless face of a tired, ill Mandela that the South African government released following his last hospitalization. Whatever happens between today and his 95th birthday, most people want to remember the smiling, dancing Mandela with his colourful shirts.
Mandela is presently sick, very sick indeed and is in intensive care in hospital. Reports from South Africa say he is being kept alive artificially. Mandela has been an inspiration to millions of people around the world during his 27 years in prison and his forgiving nature after he became president. Mandela is now one of the best recognized “brands” around the world and everybody wants a piece of him while he is still alive, his children, his ex-wife, president Jacob Zuma, millions of South Africans, admirers and sympathizers around the world.
However, we think it is time to let him go. In South African culture, a family needs to accept a dying relative to go before his spirit leaves his body.
The Mandela clan is refusing to let “Madiba” go. We think they should now. We all need a rest at the end of an eventful life and Mandela’s life has been packed with remarkable events.
Nelson Mandela has influenced millions of people around the world. We speak to Africans in the USA, Cameroon, UK and Nigeria about what Mandela means to them, how he has inspired and influenced them. Their replies are edifying. Read on.
Ebenezer Derek Mbongo Akwanga Jr, 42, Maryland, USA
Former Prisoner of Conscience, Human Rights Campaigner, Motivational Speaker
Nelson Rolihlaha Mandela epitomizes the living symbol of global hypocrisy: hailed as a symbol of strength and reconciliation today, rebellious, brutal terrorist leader yesterday. As a former prisoner of conscience myself, I have somehow walked in the footsteps of ‘Madiba’, often misunderstood, misquoted and misrepresented. In my Secondary and High School days, I wrote lengthily about the story of “The Legendary Black Pimpernel” culled from a renowned news magazine, about the trials at Rivonia in 1963 – 1964, Pollsmoor Maximum Security prison in the outskirts of Cape Town’s suburb of Tokai and Robben Island Ultra-max prison. I recalled the courageous struggles of Zenani Mandela-Dlamini and Zindzi Mandela, Nomzamo Winifred Zanyiwe Madikizela and that moment when ‘terrorist’ Mandela refused to give up a brutal and barbaric incarceration for a tea-spoon freedom which would involve just him but not his people – the totality of black and coloured South Africans.
The most spectacular aspect of this story is, I remember how Mandela, still on the United States government terrorist watch-list walked on the red carpet in numerous Western democracies, jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize with Frederik Willem de Klerk, the man who 36 months before that day had in his power to decide whether this freedom fighter labeled terrorist was to die in prison. Miraculous how things work most of the time! Unfortunate that these miraculous happenings have not been a signal enough for tyrants and human-flesh hunters and eaters in Africa in particular and the world at large to learn a thing: that dictatorship, apartheid, racism – overt or covet, man’s inhumanity to man, ethnic cleansing, genocide, these ills and all their vices have no place in a world mankind never created but every day is pursuing its destruction.
Yes, Madiba planted bombs when they were needed, he sanctioned a retaliatory killing of those responsible for killing his people, he rightfully saw the destruction of structures that kept the monster apartheid system going, but in the end when peace came calling, it found a powerful crusader in him, visiting his former jailers and working for reconciliation even as his predecessors have succeeded in building a Rainbow Nation in which the paralyzing effects of fear that grips every South African today and visitors to South Africa glaringly shows the failure of a conflict resolution mechanism which targets the body not the heart and conscience of the victims and perpetrators. Nelson Mandela has taught me to physically fight for freedom if it becomes necessary, to match state-organized brutality with physical force almost equal and parallel with the state, to show not just courage and the willingness to die for what you know is conscientiously true but to be mildly insane for the cause of freedom. Madiba fought when it was needed, killed when it became a must for the very survival of his people but became an apostle for peace when it was necessary.
This is the Nelson Mandela I know, the one I looked up to when I was being tortured, the one whose imprisonment tailored my days in prison. Mandela just wanted to be a MAN not a SAINT and remarkably he achieved that goal. To every freedom fighter therefore, don’t be a saint – be a Mandela! Thank you Madiba, thanks for showing me that one can only become a saint by being a MAN. As the heavenly angels continue to prepare your luxurious mansion, as they await your arrival while we try to keep you a little longer without the burnings of your heart; as we struggle with our greed of what might befall us when Jehovah says, ‘time out my son Nelson’, I want you to know that I would always remember you, not for being a Nobel Laureate or South Africa’s first black President, not for withstanding the gruesome 27 years of imprisonment nor pulling the trigger with Winnie for her trying to be human. I would remember you for accepting that you planted bombs when they were most needed for the cause of freedom.
Ngwainbi Afuh Percy, 30, Yaounde – Cameroon
As a Catholic Christian our doctrine commands us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. However, I had found it difficult to subscribe to it until I read and listened to the life story of the emblematic former president of South Africa-Nelson Mandela.
I strive on a daily basis to be tolerant, steadfast,
forgiving and respecting the golden rule “do to others what you will like them to do onto you,” largely inspired by Mandela’s life-long struggle and triumph over apartheid and racism.
Affectionately known in South Africa as “Madiba” (father of the nation), he has taught me that leadership is service and putting others first. Mandela and his works will continue to illuminate my path even when he passes on to eternal glory. Madiba you are love!
Vitalis Chioh Anye, 30, Graduate Student, African University of Science and Technology, Abuja – Nigeria
While growing up as a kid through primary and secondary school, I have always learned about the life and examples of Nelson Mandela, a great African icon who steadfastly fought against colonialism and apartheid in South African. In fact he stood like a “Messiah” for that nation; after spending 27 miserable years in prison, he came out and was the first black President of that great Southern African Nation which has the biggest economy in Africa and is by no means considered as a developed country in a developing or dark continent. The lesson learnt from this is that of not giving up on a course even when everyone around you thinks that it is not possible. He believed in himself and in the vision to one day rescue his people from the hands of the apartheid regime. I remember when I graduated from high school (Government High School Mankon, Bamenda, Cameroon) and enrolled in the University of Buea to study Physics; many people and senior students had tagged it a very difficult course and I was told that I am not going to spend less than 5 years for a 3-year program. The worse of it was that when I got to school it was written on one of the walls of the departmental building: “Welcome to Hell”. That is to tell you how bad the situation was. I however determined to put in only three years before graduating and finally did succeed. I was following Mandela’s mantra that you can get it if you really want
I graduated with honors after exactly 3 years. This was the kind of determination that moved Madiba from prison to “palace” (presidency).
Mandela served for just five years as President (1994 to 1999) and handed over the command batten to Thabo Mbeki. This is a great sign of humility and unselfishness. If it were some of our African leaders of today, they would have clinged on power for as long as he possibly could, even dying as president. This is a big lesson to learn and I did that and is still doing it in every organization where I occupy a leadership position-due respect, I accord to my compatriots and try to give others a fair chance to exercise their prowess.
Today, I am studying Materials Science and Engineering in one of the Nelson Mandela Institutions (NMI), African University of Science and Technology (AUST) here in Abuja. It is an awesome privilege, I don’t take it for granted, but give God the glory. Nelson Mandela was a lawyer, but when he was asked by some of the big guns in the World Bank to propose one single thing the World Bank could do to trigger African development, he said: “Invest in Science and Technology”. Such a response emanating from the lips of a lawyer sounded strange. It shows that for African development to be realized, we need to invest and build capacity in science and technology, a cause which I have now embarked on.
These and many more are some lessons I have learned from “Madiba’s” life. I pray we have many more such calibre of personalities emerging in our generation to take our continent to another level.
Samuel Ogoke, 31, Nigeria
I love to stay true to my passion and Nelson Mandela is one person that inspires me all the time. He spent 27 years in prison for a cause he believed in and he saw it come to fruition.
Faith works all the time. I have seen it in Mandela and I will see it come true all through my life. He will leave South Africa a better place than he met it.
Tabifor King, 27, Photojournalist/Corporate Communicator
Nelson Mandela or “Madiba ” is the dummy from which Pan Africanists are produced. Even before Barack Obama started the “Yes we Can” slogan, just the thought of Madiba made me believe I can. If he could stand and kill apartheid, then young as I am, I can stand to stop corruption. If he could create a South Africa where today my Cameroonian brothers can now reside and thrive in business, then I, a Cameroonian, can also make the Cameroonian business environment favourable. If he could bring equality, I too can solve the Anglophone problem in my country.
The perseverance of Madiba in his prison cell in a situation of “me against the world” has been the inspiration that has made me not to give up on my on-going fight to rebrand Cameroon and refurbish its international reputation. Never in my life has every move of a man living miles away from me and I never met influenced me so strongly. When I heard about his present health problems, I felt sick myself.
Madiba is my model of patriotism and pan Africanism for his capacity to rally a people who had no hope, to the place of independence. His desire to hand over power (unlike other African leaders) is a lesson that I learnt and will gladly pass unto others. “Madiba” has virtually changed my life. Long live Mandela.
Mbangsi Chi, 34, Entrepreneur
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for his political beliefs long before I was born but I grew up in the grasslands of Cameroon singing “Free Mandela” songs all though primary school. I vividly remember celebrating on the streets when he was released on the 11.11.1990 which coincides with National Youth day festivities in Cameroon. We were out partying anyway and Mandela’s release intensified the merriment and celebration.
More importantly, Madiba went on to direct significant and peaceful political transition in South Africa which was too long gripped by the pains of apartheid. The problems in SA are not all over but he did the right things as President. He managed to live up to and even exceeded his revolutionary ideals after 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela serves as a truly inspirational human being.
I think that it is in handing over the baton of exemplified and demonstrated leadership to the next generation that he truly became free. Nowadays, when I enjoy a meal in my favourite restaurant overlooking the Mandela Gardens just off the Millennium Square in Leeds, UK., I am proud to live in the wake of his story. It really is not a black/white story. It is a human story. May God bless him.
Raphael Nyiekule, 30, Student, Benue State University, Makurdi, Nigeria
Nelson Mandela has been inspiration and the least I can say is that I have leanrt the following values from him:
Fighting Segregation: Mandela’s concern for the common people of South Africa, more particularly blacks, was touching. He selflessly pursued the cause of the oppressed and deprived despite their cruel treatment from their white apartheid “brothers”. He never became a racist as a result of what he went through but looked at both white and blacks as one and the same people.
A Natural Leader: He is a natural leader and a gifted speaker who used his gifts and ability for the common good of all. In one of his speeches he expressed his view on what a good leader is like, he said, “a leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind”. Despite his imprisonment unjustly at several occasions, he did not allow it to make him a bitter man. He has always been straight, focused and purposeful.
A Peacemaker: White people were worried about giving blacks equal rights but Mandela proved himself a better man. He began peace talks with the government, working with the then president of South Africa to promote peace between blacks and white. He never incited blacks against whites when he could have easily done that when he became president.
Ngasoh Fayen Odette, 30, Graduate Student. Abuja, Nigeria
Mandela’s determination and persistence in getting what he wanted has greatly influenced my way of doing things. Almost like him, I don’t easily give up even when things are not moving on the way I want.
Also, his zeal and passion for others has affected the way I deal with people, to always consider others to the extent of risking my very life for them; ie living a sacrificial life, like a gift that keeps on giving.
Today, I stand as one of the numerous beneficiaries of Nelson Mandela’s initiative to invest in Science and Technology in Africa by sponsoring students across all of Africa to study engineering.
In fact, he believed in scientists and engineers being raised and trained in Africa, and this is already a reality as could be seen in the many engineers in the making in the various Nelson Mandela Institutions across the continent.
Tonwa Anthony, 33, Writer/Banker, Lagos – Nigeria
From when I first watched the movie ‘Mandela’ back in the late 80s (starring Danny Glover as Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela), I was moved by his relentless pursuit for freedom and equality for black South Africans. Mandela’s experience has had a lasting impression on me and has taught me a couple of things:
You must stand up for what you believe in. If something is not right then you need to speak up. Sitting down in silence and doing nothing wouldn’t change anything. He also didn’t condone violence so he went about his fight with no intention to physically harm his oppressors. I think that trait is very admirable.
He also taught me the meaning of Endurance. Mandela spent 27 years of his life behind bars and during that time he even earned himself a Law degree. I can recall being between jobs for 3 months and thinking that was a living hell. He went through that ordeal and not once did I read any publication talking about him complaining, being frustrated or being depressed. He was always portrayed in a positive light and he was equally optimistic about his incarceration not being in vain.
As a Christian I believe in God and I know that He rewards those who help others; Mandela fought a good fight for his people and not only did the world celebrate him during and after his imprisonment, he was later elected as South Africa’s first black President. The black populace in SA look up to him and respect him greatly. Indeed, good things come to those who wait.
His current hospitalization however is of major concern to the nationals. My concern is that per adventure he passes on then there would be a gap that no clear successor would be able to fill – and if that happens, I can only imagine the fate of SA if Mandela’s followers choose not to be led by a particular new leader. In the end, God knows best.