Opinion: Sleep well, Madiba

by Kayode Oladehin

Into prison went Nelson and out came Mandela. But the story might have been different, Nelson Mandela once said that he was glad he was caught, he said as head of the military wing of the ANC they had decided to scale up their activities by attacking schools and hospitals. Had that happened who knows?

When the news that Nelson Mandela had passed broke, it didn’t come much as a shock to me and I guess to most people too, here was a 95 year old man with failing health and I guess it was only a matter of time.As I sat watching the news and listening to commentator after commentator, I asked myself a few questions I have always asked myself about Nelson Mandela. How did he do it? How was he able to find that level of forgiveness within him? How does one go through that without being extremely bitter? Without wanting vengeance?

I ask these questions because I know such is impossible for me, I know that much about myself. I probably would have come out of prison a sober man, made a great speech about reconciliation and all of that, I would have ruled for a few months and suddenly gone Idi Amin Dada on my former oppressors. “Field Marshall” Idi Amin Dada of Uganda was on a scale of 1 to 10, a 10 amongst crazy African leaders (Nigeria’s very own General Sani Abacha was a mere 6) and I would probably have borrowed numerous leaves from his book (bar the human flesh eating one) in “executing” my plan, I would have united all Black South Africa in seeking revenge, the world would have been aghast. I would have called a news conference (Idi Amin Dada style of course) to let the world know that we had defeated the enemy, I would have been quoted as saying “Never, never, and never again would you dare FACK WITH MY CANTRY”.

But in doing this one would have become the oppressor he despised and destroyed a promising nation. The world would have stood up against this and another Zimbabwe would have been on our hands. Not doing this, but choosing reconciliation over retaliation made Nelson Mandela the legend that he is today. Many have been incarcerated in the past, so Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment adds little to his greatness other than shaping him from a very angry man when incarcerated to a mellow man when released as stated by Bishop Desmond Tutu. It was also a known fact that Nelson Mandela was generally an impatient man before prison and once told a story about how impatient he would get with Oliver Tambo (his then partner at his law firm) for spending too many hours with one client and therefore not making enough money for the firm. Prison would teach him patience, a quality he would draw on when negotiating with the apartheid regime.

Into prison went Nelson and out came Mandela. But the story might have been different, Nelson Mandela once said that he was glad he was caught, he said as head of the military wing of the ANC they had decided to scale up their activities by attacking schools and hospitals. Had that happened who knows?

But even without that happening Mandela could have still gone the wrong way when released, he could have gone Mugabe like. Why didn’t he? I guess somehow prison had in a twisted way prepared him for this next chapter. Years in solitary confinement had probably made him so bitter that he soon realised it served no purpose, he would have had time to think, to picture a new South Africa, he probably quickly realised the type of powerful black man the west liked and would tolerate, none of the old rhetoric could return, no more Malcolm X style approach but back to his original style, the Martin Luther King approach, he had to be soft and cuddly on the outside and hard as steel on the inside.

As I thought about all of this I thought about another great African liberator named Robert Mugabe. Mugabe like Mandela had fought for freedom and equality, like Mandela, Mugabe spent time in prison (11 years), like Mandela he too lost a son while in prison and like Mandela he too set up a truth and reconciliation council. For years Mugabe was a friend of the west, and for years Zimbabwe thrived. Until the land issue reared it’s head, this was a head Britain did not want to see or hear of. Mugabe though right in seeking land reform got it all wrong, spurred on by remnants of his bitterness, he went for the perceived enemies of Zimbabwe.
The Mugabe of today is considered to be one of the last nut jobs still ruling Africa, a bitter old man still clinging to power, determined to fight to the end. His story could have been different, his story could have been similar to Mandela’s, today we could have had Mugabe and Mandela as our heroes.

Two men, almost parallel lives, different out comes. Why? Many things, but bitterness played a massive role. In Mugabe’s case it was the main ingredient in his broth. In Mandela’s case the lack of bitterness made his taste much better, he replaced bitterness with forgiveness as the main ingredient. And this remains his greatest legacy. Goodnight Madiba!

 

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

 

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