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South Africa and its people must emulate Nelson Mandela

He always made sure he consulted with his organisation, African National Congress

  • By Paul Stober, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 19:04 December 8, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: EPA
  • A woman wipes her tears as she stands with others in front of flowers brought by mourners for the late South African president Nelson Mandela outside Mandela's home in Johannesburg, South Africa, 08 December 2013.

After a day of prayer and reflection, many South Africans believe they must find ways of giving practical expression to the legacy of Nelson Mandela, to help secure its future.

In an address to a memorial service in Johannesburg, South African President, Jacob Zuma, said: “He believed that we should live in peace, that we should live in unity. He believed in forgiving and forgave... even those who kept him in jail for 27 years. We should exercise these values to remember him. If we [do this] we would have done a lot.”

Mandela cannot be put on a pedestal, while ordinary South Africans are excused living the values that made him great leader, said political analyst and writer, Justice Malala, on a local radio talk show. If the country is to achieve the best it can, then its people and institutions will have to try and emulate Mandela.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister, Ebrahim Ebrahim, served two terms in prison, on Robben Island, for military activities against the former apartheid regime. Although separated in jail, he and others found ways and means to be in contact with Mandela, who was at first also incarcerated on the island prison. “When there were political differences which we could not resolve among ourselves, we always sought his guidance,” said Ebrahim, in an interview with Gulf News.

“A united, democratic South Africa is Mandela’s most important legacy. While he was clear there could be no compromise on majority rule, from the beginning he also wanted to address the concerns and fears of the white minority. He was able to reach out across racial, ethnic, cultural and religious divisions and unite the country. There are few people that could do that,” Ebrahim explained.

But, former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, said in an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mandela’s death is symbolic of the passing of a generation who were the architects of South Africa’s democracy. “These are the people to whom we really owe our liberation,” he said.

“There is a questioning in our country about the things that are going wrong. There is a mood in the country for reflection and taking these matters up in a more systemic way,” Mbeki added. Ahead of what is likely to be a hard fought general election next year and growing concern about economic and social divisions and corruption in the country, the political mood in South Africa has been bitter, of late.

Despite his coming to symbolise the struggle against apartheid, Mandela was not the only person working towards peace and reconciliation in South Africa. As Ebrahim points out, even when he started negotiating with the former regime — a stance not popular with many of his supporters who were die-hard opponents of apartheid — Mandela made sure he consulted with his organisation, the African National Congress.

“We were taken to him so he could brief us on what he was doing. He would also ask us to tell those in prison what was happening so that they could also be consulted,” recalled Ebrahim. While Mandela pushed certain policies and strategies, they were ultimately adopted by the ruling party and its supporters.

But, while Mandela’s death has seen the country come together to celebrate his life, the election is likely to see an unseemly tussle by political parties for control of his legacy, say analysts — but his true values must be protected and passed on.

For Ebrahim, the youth of South Africa — who are now the bearers of Mandela’s legacy — must learn to resolve conflict — without violence. “No matter how difficult, differences must be resolved through discussion,” he said.

There is also Mandela’s personal touch and humanity. “There was an occasion when he could not come to my birthday,” said Ebrahim, “so he later invited me and my family to tea. His passing is a personal loss.

Sunday’s memorial services were still marked by a sense of celebration of Mandela’s life, even as South Africans began to reflect more sombrely on how to forge a country that can live up to his legacy, despite the many challenges it faces.

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