General News of 2013-12-06

A tribute by Nana Akufo-Addo to Nelson Mandela

I join the rest of humanity in commemorating the life of the greatest African that the world has ever known, a man who managed the unique global feat of being loved, admired, respected and idolised by the greatest number of the world’s population in the course of his lifetime – Nelson Mandela.

A lifetime of struggle for equality, freedom, justice and progress, he was the greatest hero of the African liberation movement, a universal symbol of courage, conviction, and commitment. Not for him the language of freedom, but the actions of tyranny. His unshakeable belief in democracy and dogged determination to build a genuine multiracial democracy in South Africa gave him, after nearly three decades of harsh and cruel imprisonment, the moral authority to embrace a policy of national reconciliation which enabled South Africa to turn its back on civil war after the senseless horrors and cruelties of apartheid.

He was, indeed, the outstanding statesman of Africa’s history, who laid a foundation of respect for human rights and individual liberties, the rule of law, and love of nation in the governance of South Africa. That will be his lasting contribution to the future of his country and, indeed, of the entire African continent.

At the age of 76, he agreed to become the first black leader of democratic South Africa because the moment required his experience, his maturity, his wisdom, his tact, his patriotism, his popularity, his compassion, his conviction and his vision. He could have gone on to stand for re-election and win an overwhelming endorsement of the South African people in 1999. Yet, like Washington at the beginning of the American Republic, he chose to handover to another lieutenant of the freedom struggle, Thabo Mbeki. In a continent of life presidents, this was an act worthy of emulation.

He showed other leaders what can be achieved even in one term of office if a leader chooses to focus on the bigger picture - the greater good - in doing the right thing that will stand the test of time and not just to survive an electoral cycle.

He used his term in office to build an enduring one-nation platform of stability to guarantee the progress of his nation. The challenge now is how leaders after him can build on the platform that Mandela built to create a real and expanding free society of opportunities and prosperity for every South African. Mandela stayed on, even out of office, to use his statesmanship to support the reconstruction of South Africa until retiring from active politics at the age of 85.

When I think of Nelson Mandela, I think of the values that a leader must have: compassion, conviction, integrity, sincerity, generosity, loyalty, dignity and humility. Those are values that are earned from one’s actions and not just one’s words. Mandela held with remarkable consistency a very high ethical standard of behaving in line with these values.

Mandela has been a great inspiration to members of my generation. True to his Xhosa name ‘Rolihalah’, which means ‘shaker of trees’ or ‘troublemaker’, Mandela was relentless in his courage and conviction to cause trouble for those who caused trouble to humanity. Born into royalty, and having the benefit of education, he used his privileges, especially as a lawyer, not for self-gain but to serve his people.

He was first a young radical, a street activist, a dissident, who was seen by half of a bipolar Cold War world as a divisive and dangerous ‘communist terrorist’, then he was imprisoned for his cause, to be celebrated as a liberator and, finally, revered by all as an exceptional statesman. An extraordinary achievement earned by staying ever true to his convictions and possessing the capacity to adapt without flinching.

He was a fighter and stayed so even in his last months. “For to be free,” he said, “is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Such was his selflessness as a leader. A man who lived for and lived to see an integrated South Africa, earning for himself in the process, the global emblem of dignity and tolerance.

Mandela, above all, will be remembered as the chief architect of the smooth transformation of South Africa from apartheid to democracy. The greatest tribute we fellow Africans can pay him, therefore, is to use him as an inspiration for the necessary transformation of our societies to enhance the dignity and prosperity of every individual African, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age or class. If Mandela made the integration of a divided South Africa a reality, we can only pay tribute to him by making the unity of Africa a reality, also.

Such has been his greatness that even in his death his great light will continue to shine bright and we must let his example shine on to illuminate the entirety of the African continent as we strive to take to the doorsteps of every household the benefits of progress and freedom.

My sympathies go to his family, especially his widow, Madam Graça Machel, the ANC, President Jacob Zuma, the people of South Africa, fellow Africans, black people everywhere and to the people of the world, as we mourn the passing of this noblest of all Africans. May he rest in perfect peace. God bless his soul.

Nana Akufo-Addo, London, December 6, 2013