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Last Thursday the 5th of December 2013 the world received the sad news of the passing of one of its finest souls when South African President Jacob Zuma announced that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had died in hospital.
Yesterday, the world gathered at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium with over 100 current and past Presidents of Nations including our own President John Dramani Mahama to pay a dignified and electrifying tribute to a global colossus. Never has the world been so united in grief and never, more so, in these days of the threat of terrorism have so many Heads of States including all the world powers gathered under one roof at the same time in a public stadium event to eulogise one African.
Nelson Mandela defeated apartheid but in the process has defeated long held stereo-typical views about African Leaders, about the African Character and about the African Spirit – Nelson Mandela proved that good can be found in every man no matter his race, background, religion or sex.
The overwhelming and unanimous global solidarity that the world has shown since the passing of Madiba should not put us to sleep. We must be rather fired up to complete Madiba’s unfinished business. We ought to be reminded that even in South Africa the stark reality is that political equality has not yet transcended to economic and social equality. An analysis of South African census figures reveals that black South Africans are still far behind white South Africans. In 2001, white-led households typically earned $17,000 more than their black counterparts at current exchange rates. By 2011, that disparity had grown to nearly $30,000. The census analysis also show that black South Africans continue to trail in education with many having no education at all. Also according to the South African Reconciliation Barometer - a survey of racial and social attitudes revealed that deep divisions in social spheres still exist. Less than 40% of South Africans socialize with people of another race. Just 22% of white South Africans and a fifth of black South Africans live in racially integrated neighbourhoods. Schools remain heavily segregated, too: only 11% of white children go to integrated schools and just 15% of black children do.
Beyond South Africa, poverty and other forms of injustice stirs us in the face in our own country and beyond. Madiba’s example should make us rededicate ourselves to the struggle of the elimination of all forms of modern apartheid. Never should the human race allow any group of people to be impoverished, to be abused, to be humiliated and to be killed no matter the mask of the modern oppressor. Mandela’s example must teach us to speak up and to fight on the side of the oppressed and the vulnerable and that though it may come at a cost of 27 years of imprisonment amidst torture and the destruction of tear ducts, that price is still worth paying that all may be free.
We all must remain resolute in the fight against all forms of apartheid which in Afrikaans meant “Apartness” or segregation no matter the cloak it takes today. Be it as unfair world trade, be it with the United Nations political architecture, be it in the global agricultural subsidy debate, be it with the uneven development of our own country or even the tribal prejudices we hold against one another. Mandela’s lesson should bring to us deep reflections that should lead to the transformation of our world to a fair, just and prosperous community.
Other lessons from the Mandela story remain of extreme relevance. Until 2008, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress remained on the terror list of some powerful western nations. Other leaders of western nations and indeed a few leaders of African Nations did not also hesitate to describe Nelson Mandela as a terrorist who ought to be shunned and eliminated. This is the cold truth and the chilling reality as it may now appear. The lesson to me here is that we must be extremely cautious about labeling and profiling in international diplomacy. Too often we are quick to condemn and make our friends enemies our enemy also without a thorough assessment of the concrete reality. Today, many are quick to praise Mandela but some of them were the very people who denounced him and collaborated with the brutal apartheid regime which could fire life bullets into hundreds of innocent protesting little school children. The Mandela story must also change international politics and bring to an end international double standards and diplomatic hypocrisy in all its forms.
As we pay tribute to this towering icon of conscience, we cannot forget the contributions of all those who supported him sometimes at the cost of their lives home and abroad. We praise Tambo, Sisulu, Winnie, Biko, but we praise some of our own Ghanaians including Captain Kojo Tsikata who fought in the 1987 battle of Cuito Cuanavale described by historians as the biggest battle of Africa which defeated the South African apartheid forces in Angola. We praise some of our former Ghanaian leaders especially the Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (not surprisingly voted Africa’s man of the millennium by BBC World Service listeners) who gave out Ghana as a safe haven for strategic collaboration and we praise all the citizens of the world who marched and picketed and ensured that though Mandela was caged in prison his name and effigy was constantly free in the streets, the schools, the churches, the mosques, and in town halls across the world.
When Madiba invited to his house for dinner the Prosecutor who had argued in the Rivonia trial that Mandela should be hanged to death, Madiba was teaching us that tolerance should go beyond superficial smiles and handshakes. When Madiba wore the Number 6 Jersey of the Springbok being the Captain’s jersey in a game that had been reserved strictly for white South Africans, Madiba was teaching us to use sports to unite and heal wounds. That is why it is most despicable that African sportsmen are still being racially taunted in Europe. When Madiba directed his Ministers not to sack white civil servants in their Ministries he was teaching us to give trust a chance in nation building.
As the embalmed body of Madiba in glass is taken through the principal streets of Pretoria over the next three days before he is finally laid to rest on Sunday, may all those who see Madiba’s funeral cortege either at close range or across the world through the powerful lenses of the media be reminded that it can take one man to make a difference and that between good and evil God has never been neutral.
God bless the precious soul of Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and may God bless all fighters of injustice everywhere in the world.
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