Mandela legacy and african leadership
Orangeburg, South Carolina,
11TH December, 2013
Nelson Mandela’s life was celebrated yesterday in South Africa by world leaders as well as millions of ordinary people.
During his life, he exemplified reconciliation, loyalty, humility and integrity. Suffice it to say that Mandela got most of the big things right.
Like others, I have reflected on his legacy, particularly, as it relates to Africa.
Why do African leaders who celebrate Mr. Mandela so much not follow his examples?
He saved South Africa from certain war and a blood-bath by leading reconciliation between blacks and the Apartheid authorities, to secure a peaceful transition to black majority rule. This example in reconciliation is always praised by African leaders--- and yet, since that example, many African countries have had great opportunities for reconciliation and failed. And many more, in urgent need of reconciliation, are failing.
He was a true party man just as he was a man who lived by his convictions.
As he stated in a speech at an ANC rally to celebrate his 90th birthday, “Let no individual, section, faction or group ever regard itself as greater than the organization and the common good of all our people. Celebrate the promotion of unity—within the organization, among our allies, in the nation at large and among all our people. Our nation comes from a history of deep division and strife; let us never through our deeds or words take our people back down that road. Celebrate our tradition of open debate, criticism, discussion and respect for democracy.” He meant every word of it. There are many African Presidents and opposition leaders, from Cape to Cairo who will squirm uncomfortably if this simple paragraph from Mandela were read in their presence. Indeed, many have staked their careers on stoking divisions; between ethnic groups, within their countries and even within their parties.
When he found out that most in his party preferred Mbeki to his choice, Ramaphosa as his successor, he bowed to his party’s wishes. Yet, he was the man who, while in prison, told the Apartheid authorities that prisoners could not make deals while ignoring the ANC’s instructions not to negotiate with them.
And after just one term, he stepped aside, to set a powerful example for all and to acknowledge his increasing infirmity due to age. That example was completely lost on many of those singing his praises. “President” or “candidate” for life is the common mantra on our continent.
Mandela was for freedom. That was an ideal for which he was prepared to live or if necessary, to die. As President Obama put it eloquently at Mandela’s memorial, “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.” I bet when he said that, a lot of African leaders looked away in shame. Too many African countries have leaders, who behind the façade of democracy are very intolerant of dissent.
Finally, Mandela’s central lesson is that words and actions must be aligned. The central challenge for our continent is that too many of our leaders are addicted to platitudes that they do not live by.
President Zuma of South Africa was booed at Mandela’s memorial by his own people because, in the eyes of his people, he and his party, the ANC, are straying from the ideals of Madiba. As Funeka Gingcara-Sithole, one of the mourners put it, “Mandela had a vision. Mandela lived that vision. But what Zuma speaks; he doesn’t live.” Given the same chance, many in Africa would boo the very leaders who are so eagerly celebrating Mandela.
May Mandela rest in peace even as he continues to inspire mankind.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy