Nobody wanted Mandela to die even when we all knew he was living on borrowed time. We asked for a one-day delay, then a week’s, a month’s, perchance even one more year, but alas last night death felt it’s done us enough favours without capacity to oblige us any further.
I was sleepy eyed when I picked my phone to see the breaking news last night. I temporarily recovered from the flu that had confined me to my bed for the greater part of the day, to follow events as they unfolded on CNN.
For me, it immediately felt like our common era will now be divided into the pre-Mandela times and the post-Mandela times. Mandela wasn’t just a Hero to many, he was far beyond that. He redefined the word Icon. While he lived, he’d assumed legendary status, and now that he’s dead become translated to far beyond the stuff myths are made of.
If I’d been Hindu, Mandela would be one of my Gods. He personified many of the attributes you may wish to associate or ascribe to a true leader. He took selflessness to a whole new level of unattainability. This one found his calling early and followed it to the latter, unwavering till he was called up to the great beyond.
I came to know about Mandela through music, especially from Reggae acts, a lot of whom had their careers built around the enigma that Mandela represented (interestingly, some of them had their careers thwarted with the release of Mandela, as the material to rant with as regards his incarceration dwindled). I had thereafter gone back into history to learn more about him, with movies like “Mandela”, starring Danny Glover, then South African musicals like “Sarafina”, and songs by the duo of Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the late Brenda Fassie. Much later, hits from Hugh Masekela and the late Miriam Makeba, as well as the Acapella of “The Black Mambazo”, began to make much sense.
Then Mandela was released, became president soon after, dedicating his salary to the less privileged, and before you could start dreaming of the African true “Life President”, that’ll be loved by his people, he retired from office. A rarity, tending to an impossibility on the African continent, by no other than a black man. In Africa where a Mugabe cannot envisage life out of power, where many of his peers have died in power, others like Ghaddafi killed in power, and Mubarak and Ben Ali chased out of power in the most ignominious of ways. Mandela resigned in an Africa where an Obasanjo and Abdoulaye Wade (of Senegal) sought to amend the constitution to allow them run for a third term. Wade succeeded, but failed to win the election, while Obasanjo blotted his democratic credentials with that singular act.
Maybe Mandela would’ve lost his “specialness” if he’d continued in power.
Many self serving leaders be quick to name numerous places after themselves, build gigantic monuments to their name in the hope of buying for themselves immortality in the hearts of men. Mandela didn’t need to so do, he didn’t have to for before his death he lived in the hearts of many, and now that he’s gone, in the hearts of many more.
A true citizen of the world, he is claimed by many (as their own), even in places he hadn’t set eyes upon nor heard of. A status many African leaders with cockroach mentality (in the words of Dr. Majekodunmi Oluoye) can only dream of in envy while running their countries like private fiefdoms.
Much can be said about this Hero, Icon and Legend. Much more will be said and written about this epitome of selflessness and sacrifice, today and for many years to come, but for me I’ll drop my QWERTY now, and immerse myself in the words and thoughts of better writers, poets and orators, as we celebrate the life of this Man of no mean repute.
Live Forever NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA!