I was but a very young boy when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, after 27 years, back in 1990. There was spontaneous jubilation and celebration in Have, the village my father was then serving as a Presbyterian pastor. It was a big deal!
I exclaimed to myself, considering the sheer explosion of joy and the magnitude of celebrations that engulfed every street, every corner and almost every home that day. However, it was almost after a decade that I truly got to understand and to appreciate what a single strong-willed man had accomplished for an entire nation and its ramifications for the lives of all the people of South Africa.
I therefore became a curious reader and over the years got to know Nelson Mandela better and better. Indeed, after reading his address to the Supreme Court of South Africa in Pretoria in 1964, I was so humbled by the sheer determination of one man to ensure that South Africa does not continue to be held hostage by the apartheid system of governance and more so when he courageously affirmed he was prepared to pay ultimately with his life, if necessary:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. 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.”, Nelson Mandela, “Speech from the Dock”, April 20, 1964.
Needless to say, Nelson Mandela remains an iconic figure of inspiration to many people, in many countries across the globe and can be aptly described as the “binding force” holding both the black and white sides of the divide together harmoniously in present day South Africa. His presence alone serves as a unifying force behind the nation, a deterrent to extremists of radical ideology and makes almost everyone “behave well”.
However, recent developments regarding the health status of Nelson Mandela, even as he turns 95 years old today makes it imperative for some honest discussions to be done by all those who are concerned about the future of South Africa, openly and dispassionately. It is within this context that I share a few thoughts on the future of South Africa, particularly should the legend move on to greater glory in the heavens:
First, the ANC must realize that the ideals for which Nelson Mandela has lived and fought his entire life for are all about improving the lives of the greatest majority of South Africans. In other words, the political liberation of black South Africans is meaningless unless it translates into the socio-economic emancipation of same people, from whom the government derives its legitimacy.
Reading through Nelson Mandela’s “Speech in the Dock” delivered in 1964 to the Supreme Court of South Africa made me feel as though Mandela was to a very large extent writing about present day South Africa, calling for social justice for South Africans who have been left behind in education, skills training, employment and in participation in the governance process of their country.
The ANC must not die, but for that to stand true over the many years to come, it must realize that empowering the masses through quality education and giving them the opportunity to make decent living through employment or enterprise creation is at the core of its legitimacy and survival. The vast mineral resources and the revenues from the economic boom in that country must directly be channeled to better the lot of the people-in other words, the ANC must deliver for the majority of the people, not enriching a few elitist groups of leaders instead, period!
Further, the ANC must work towards the consolidation of unity within its ranks since increasingly dissention and in-fighting have become major features within the party. Nelson Mandela achieved his mission on the platform of the ANC so it is a moral duty on the part of the current leadership of the ANC to ensure that the same political vehicle-the ANC-lives on as a tribute to Mandela.
Second, ALL South Africans must re-dedicate and re- commit themselves to the promotion of national unity, tolerance and respect for one another as a moral and national duty. The beauty of the RAINBOW NATION lies in the harmony between its many colours of race and culture. That is what Nelson Mandela stands for and will continue to represent in many years to come.
Efforts at FURTHER promoting race relations and understanding between the different cultures will go a long way to cement the gains chalked by South Africa as a nation so far. After all, development can only be accomplished when peace truly prevails and the rule of law works for all.
Also, there must be a conscientious effort by the leadership of South Africa to identify, empower and equip the next generation of leaders for South Africa. All too often, leaders retire or pass on without grooming a capable team of successors, therefore jeopardizing the very vision, ideals and dreams they hold dear to heart.
The development of transformational leaders who are adequately prepared to carry on the mantle of leadership from academia, to civil society, to business through to national partisan politics in the verisimilitude of Nelson Mandela (and his peers such as Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko, Govan Mbeki, Oilver Tambo, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni) will be a lasting legacy in honour of the nation’s first Black President.
Indeed, when I say Nelson Mandela must not die, I am not referring to the mortality of his physical body but rather the immortality of his love for country, his compassion for humanity and his unending passion for social justice as well as his VISION of a strong and united South Africa!