#YNaijaMandelaSpecial: How to honour Nelson Mandela, by Joachim Mac-Ebong

by Joachim Mac-Ebong


Part of the sorrow of Mandela’s death is that there appears to be no current African leader fit to tie his shoelaces. Even those mentored by him directly in the ANC are unable to emulate him.

When the death of Nelson Mandela was announced by Jacob Zuma, Barack Obama’s statement said in part: “Mandela no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages”.

It is hard to conclude that he ever did belong to us. So much of what he did and who he was seemed other worldly; as if he were something other than human.

Having been in jail for 27 years and suffered numerous indignities to his person and those close to him, he could have taken the path of Mugabe and exacted vengeance against his captors. It is now almost a cliché that he did not.

After serving his first term as South Africa’s President in 1999, he was entitled to another, but, in character, he did not take it. Then he finally made that ascent into sainthood when he forgave everyone: those who put him in jail, those who killed his people, and those who looked away.

So we often say, “to err is human and to forgive divine”, but here as one man who practiced it totally, so much so that one person paid tribute and – with no exaggeration – submitted his life as “the closest thing we have to proof of God”.

The outpouring of grief and tribute at his passing is unprecedented for an actual political leader – who led a country, and won an election. Politics is supposed to be a dirty game, but Madiba came out of it smelling like roses. So sweet smelling in fact, that everyone, everywhere, wants to be associated with him and with his memory.

It was enough for some to even suggest the present occupier of his office as President stretched out the death for as long as he could squeeze out some goodwill.

Because Mandela made South Africa what it is today. He started the healing process that South Africa so desperately needed; the ointment over a festering wound that prevented a nation from descending into mass racial violence. In 1993, Chris Hani, touted in some quarters as Mandela’s likely successor to lead the African National Congress (ANC), was assassinated by a Neo-Nazi Polish immigrant named Janusz Walus. It was Mandela who, in a televised address to South Africans in the aftermath of Chris Hani’s assassination, appealed for calm and restraint.

Those who killed Hani wanted to start a war over race, but they forgot the power of Mandela. He showed his fellow comrades a different way; a better way. Along with Desmond Tutu, he was instrumental in building an identity for a post-apartheid South Africa, the ‘Rainbow Nation’, a where the rights of all people would be protected, whatever colour they are – a country built on the foundation of what has been called the world’s best constitution.

Many African countries are now in dire need of that same national identity today; an identity to help them look beyond their ethnic struggles and work together to build their respective countries.

Rather than commit themselves to this task, we have another cliché: many African leaders who have chosen to sit tight in office and appropriate to themselves the dividends of power, and not for the greater good.

Part of the sorrow of Mandela’s death is that there appears to be no current African leader fit to tie his shoelaces. Even those mentored by him directly in the ANC are unable to emulate him.

Up and down the continent, the story is the same, of industrious people who succeed in spite of their government, not because of it. Perhaps the example Madiba set is too difficult to follow. Perhaps everyone else is doomed to pale in comparison.

There are some that said he was not human, but alas he was. The evidence lies in his passing – even after a grand 95 years.

And leaving, there were things he could not do. There is work he has left for others – for us – to complete. That is the only way to truly honour him.

He always wanted a better life for his people, for all people, and made great personal sacrifices to make that happen.

Today, a lot of the talk is about whether or not Africa is rising, about whether the continent will be the next to experience the sustained economic growth that will benefit its people. Such potential will be difficult to realise without the kind of leadership Nelson Mandela practiced.

A people divided – the millions of young people in our population that we boast with these days – will not be able to create a better future.

This is the challenge for all of us who have been privileged to experience Mandela, even if from afar. Inspired by his example and learning the lessons of his life, we must pick up from where he left off and work diligently to improve the world as we have met it.

At the Rivonia trial where he was sentenced to prison in 1964, he said:  “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 needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

We all have to decide for ourselves what would be worth our lives. It is the only way to change the world like he did. That is the only tribute worth giving Madiba.


– See the full Y! Special tribute to Mandela on ynaija.com/mandela



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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