“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela
On this sad day, we salute the life of the great Nelson Mandela. It is has never been an African cultural tradition to mourn in a prolonged way the passing of a friend or family member. African funerals are mostly joyful occasions where life is celebrated in song and dance and wine and food.
Is there another life one could celebrate more? It is difficult to find another public figure who has had more meaning and impact on our generation. Writing from the perspective of someone who works in the travel industry, South Africa was a pariah state for decades leading into the 1990s. More people visited Zimbabwe than South Africa. In 1994, with the upcoming first democratic elections, South Africa was a conflict zone with the confident prediction by many observers that the streets would be awash with blood. Inter tribal conflict, inter racial conflict, political conflict; all trying to set a match to the powder keg of South Africa.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. If Cecil Rhodes was a colossus, Nelson Mandela bestrode society with the agility of an African elephant; a massive presence but with the light step and sensitive mind. He laid the foundation of a society which has experienced the greatest economic growth in its history over the last 19 years. There has been meaningful transformation and improvement in the lives of many black South Africans. South Africa has become a “normal” society to such an extent that political elections pass with the minimum of comment or reporting by international news media. Above all, he became a figure which South Africans from all colours and class’s could unite behind and say that he represented them.
Mandela practiced what he had advocated in the long years he spent behind bars. Tolerance, respect, love for your fellow man.For those living now in South Africa, his legacy has been somewhat distilled by venal, opportunistic and incompetent leaders. The ANC is a shadow of its former self with its main goal being the preservation of its own power. Can one blame Mandela? Certainly there were signs of rot which appeared during his premiership but with so much to do, least of all removing the country from a precipice, one cannot be too harsh in our judgement.
We enter a new world without the comforting presence of a favourite and beloved uncle. Mr Mandela, we salute you, we celebrate you and be assured that your life will inspire generations to come.