Celebrating the International Nelson Mandela Day

Makwaia Wa Kuhenga

“NELSON Mandela is the living embodiment of the highest values of the United Nations. Through long years in prison, he maintained a steadfast belief in justice and human equality. Upon his release, he reconciled with those who persecuted him most. And he led the way to a democratic, multiracial South Africa…” Ban Ki Moon, former UN Secretary-General in a statement in 2009.

IN the year 2009, the United Nations adopted a resolution to declare Madiba Nelson Mandela birthday on July 18 as an ‘International Mandela Day’ urging member states to commemorate Madiba’s life through acts of service to the community across the world.

Wednesday July 18, this week, the international community celebrated, albeit posthumously Mandela’s birthday, for he was born on July 18, 1918 and died on a Thursday December 5th 2013.

Here in Dar es Salaam, hundreds of people marked the day the late Mandela was born by embarking on an exercise to clean up some parts of city joined by among others, the South African High Commissioner here as per UN dedication to mark the day through acts of service to the community any where.

As goes the quotation at the outset of this perspective by former UN SecretaryGeneral Ban Ki Moon, Nelson Mandela’s birthday is one of the great dates on the calendar globally as is the day he passed away.

Recalling that day he passed away, it has been observed that never in modern times has the loss of one human being galvanized the whole world into mourning.

Indeed, the passing away of this Giant of History had blended the mutual world we share into one- across the racial, multi-polar and ideological divide as we saw on the day he was laid to rest.

We had Presidents Raul Castro, Barack Obama, Robert Mugabe and not less than 70 world leaders from across the continents putting aside their ideological differences and meeting eye to eye to honor and mourn this Global Icon; Madiba Nelson Mandela.

For us in Tanzania, the passing away of Madiba in the first week of the commemoration of this country ‘Uhuru’ (independence) day, was a meaningful coincidence: this country was a dependable rear base in South Africa’s liberation struggle against apartheid and minority rule as it was to the whole of southern African states such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola.

It was both ideal and commendable that 95 per cent of the speech of the fourth phase President, Ndugu Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the independence of mainland Tanzania was dedicated to the memory of the long walk to freedom of Madiba Nelson Mandela invoking memories of Madiba, the guerrilla freedom fighter who even forgot his battle boots in 1964 as he crossed into this country to Algeria to receive guerrilla warfare training.

Certainly, there is much to learn from Mzee Mandela’s long life. ‘Mzee’, of course, is a Kiswahili’s word of address to a respectable elderly person as is ‘Tata’ for our brothers and sisters in South Africa.

Now commemorating Mandela’s birthday, as set aside by the United Nations is the essence of this perspective today. For those who have read Mzee Mandela’s book, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ which is his biography, must have found in it quite extraordinary tales which could be useful to any person in ordinary life let alone in leadership responsibilities.

Now, since we are talking of his long life too, which he was gifted, dying at 95, (as rare are humans that clock this age) he had virtues that very few humans are endowed, let alone capable to display.

Among his virtues were his belief in human equality, selflessness, and bearing no grudges to those who tortured him. Among Mandela’s most quoted statements has been his rejection of domination of one race by another.

We all recall the infamous apartheid state of South Africa. The backbone of that state was racism, a belief in the supremacy of whites over non-whites. Apart from minority rule, Mandela had to contend with racism.

But he went further: if there would be any person among his people who espoused domination of blacks over other races, he would have no time for him! This, to my mind, partly explains why his passing away has galvanized people across the racial divide globally today.

Becoming the first black President after the defeat of apartheid Mandela had two terms to do. He announced immediately before assuming office that he would be President for only one term!

Who, among leaders today in both the developing and developed world, talks this language after winning an election? Hahahahaha! I have never heard one, not even in the United States of America! Mandela also entertained no grudges against any person who may have wronged or tortured him.

After assuming office as President of South Africa, we recall him inviting for breakfast even prison warders who had made life rough for him when he was incarcerated in prison.

To make his government real representative of all South Africans, he appointed into his government ministers who only yesterday were chieftains in the then apartheid state!

And talking of grudges, don’t we have leaders in Africa today who even entertain hearsay (the Kiswahili equivalent of ‘majungu’) against capable people by listening to ‘majungu cookers’ alleging “so and so was in the camp of so and so in the last election” whereas it was not true! Good Lord! Mandela was never the level of a person to listen to mud-throwers against other persons.

Mandela was also never pretentious or grandiose. He epitomized humility. In his lifetime, he liked to dress simply and rejected titles be fore his name, settling for his childhood name - Madiba.

I am sure some universities of good repute had honored him with honorary doctorates, but he settled for what people liked to address him most, ‘Madiba’ and not ‘Doctor’ so and so! Most importantly, Mandela always trusted others - this is why he chose to serve only for one term.

It was a message to his fellow countrymen that South Africa can and will run without him. Most importantly, he chose not to make public statements criticizing his successors- instead choosing to offer advise when consulted instead.

Rare are men endowed with such virtues anywhere. But to say that racism is gone just because apartheid South Africa had been vanquished in a spirited fight put up by Mandela and his compatriots would be naïve.

Most of you taking a read at this column now know that there had been a couple of European states who had black ministers in government but these ministers were not taken kindly by some sections of the population in those respective European countries.

Reports abounded then that such ministers in nonwhite colors were being heckled from time to time, with names equating them to monkeys! You see! The struggle is far from over.

While Mandela did achieve to put in place a democratic non-racial South Africa, those following the news and developments in South Africa or those who have visited the country in recent times, must have noted a clear and dangerous divide between the haves and havenots in that country.

I, for one, do not buy a cliché often used by apologists of capitalism of the emergence of a “middle class” among black people in South Africa. To my mind, this “middle class” is just adding fuel in an already raging fire!

The real solution, to my mind, would be to address the concerns of the poor majority in South Africa. The same is true with my country, Tanzania.

So to adequately celebrate the life of Madiba Nelson Mandela is to address the plight of the poor majority in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world by putting up social-economic programs in their favor.

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