By DANIEL WESANGULA AND AGENCIES
NAIROBI, KENYA: As the world continues to mourn his departure, Nelson Mandela has left behind a legacy that will be hard to match by any current or future leader.
After his 27-year prison stint, he walked out a free man devoid of hate and vengeance to those who had caused him, his family and his beliefs unimaginable pain and suffering.
Addressing hundreds of thousands after his release, he reminded his followers of the importance of an all inclusive South Africa in which anyone, regardless of colour, could not only dream of prosperity, but also prosper. As he wound up the speech, he reminded the crowd of his own words at his sentencing in 1964:
“I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
With these words he began the long road to reconciliation that created the Rainbow Nation that the world knows of today. Of this selflessness, his friend and confidant Bishop Desmond Tutu said on Friday:
“He taught us extraordinary practical lessons on forgiveness. Who will ever forget how Ellis park erupted on the day of the finals as Madiba walked out wearing the springbok jersey with no 6 on the back, the captain’s number,” Tutu said.
At the time rugby was, almost to the man, considered to be a white man’s sport. There were even calls to rename the South African national team, to get rid of the Springbok name. The captain, whose jersey Mandela wore was white.
His release coincided with an increase in infection rates of HIV/AIDS throughout the continent. However despite what science showed, many African leaders were reluctant to tackle this issue as it touched on the rather taboo subject of sex. In spite of this, Mandela spoke out on HIV/AIDS and publicly acknowledged it as a problem within his young republic.
After his retirement in 1999 he campaigned for more research into HIV/AIDS, for education about safe sex and for better treatment for those affected. However, most South Africans still did not mention the disease in public.
On World Aids Day in 2000, he sent out a hard-hitting message, saying:
“Our country is facing a disaster of immeasurable proportions from HIV/AIDS. We are facing a silent and invisible enemy that is threatening the very fabric of our society.
“Be faithful to one partner and use a condom... Give a child love, laughter and peace, not Aids.”
His son, Mokgatho was to later on, in 2005, die from HIV/AIDS related complications.
Madiba will also be remembered for belonging to the ever-dwindling number of African leaders who willingly stepped down from his powerful position of president to let a younger man take over the reigns. This he did in spite of the fact he was still hugely popular at the time.
At a 1999 farewell banquet organised by his successor Thabo Mbeki, Mandela said he bore no regrets for taking on retirement and that he stood proud to have served his country.
“For my part, I would want to say how privileged I feel to have participated in the achievements of our nation during the past five years. I have been humbled to have been honoured, as their representative, in the name of the principles for which our people stood. It has been an inspiration to serve a nation that has helped renew the world’s hope that all conflicts, no matter how intractable, are capable of peaceful resolution,” he said. “I say this with special pride in the presence of so many Heads of State and Government from countries whose peoples stood with us. We are proud to affirm the health of our democracy before leaders of regional, continental and international organisations which have assisted us: in our struggle for liberation; in our transition to democracy; and in our first faltering steps on the path of reconstruction and development.”
He has left behind shoes that may never be filled and steps that may never be followed to the letter. For many who continue to mourn him, he remains an irreplaceable soul.
“Mandela towered and trounced the ills in society not just in his native country but the world over. He rose above the socio-political trivialities that continue to characterise and impede growth in many nations in contemporary society. I see Mandela as the epitome of Christianity,” Canon Peter Karanja, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Kenya told The Standard on Sunday.