Nelson Mandela has finally been laid to rest. At 95 years of age, what more could be said. He had a lived a long, eventful, unprecedented and historic life. That Mandela stands apart in world history as a Statesman per excellence goes without saying. As an undergraduate in the United Kingdom in the 1980s, Mandela inspired many of us to support the ANC financially, go on anti apartheid marches and denounce the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher administrations for their reprehensible principles of “constructive engagement”.
In many ways, Mandela’s stature on the world stage is unparalleled. Nearer home as the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Mandela joined a pantheon of Africans whose principled fight against colonialism, racism, oppression and economic subjugation became the shining lights of a nascent African renaissance.
In this pantheon, stood Leopold Senghor of Senegal and the renaissance message of negritude inspiring Africans to a re-discovered pride in being African. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah embodied a pan African ideal uniting all Africans across the artificially created boundaries of the European scramble for Africa.
Zik of Africa (Nnamdi Azikwe) would inspire this same ideal when he took the reins of leadership of the National Congress of the Nigerians and Cameroonians (NCNC), Nigeria’s first truly national party that would win elections across the country, before the era of tribalism took root and poisoned our fledgling democracy.
Julius Nyerere would establish Swahili as the national language of Tanzania and would have the supreme humility to admit the error of his socialist inspired economic plans that wreaked havoc on Tanzanians. The point is, most African nations started out with largely great visionary leaders. However, once that generation of leaders past from the scene, there has largely been a descent from visionary and sacrificial leadership to myopic and self-serving grand patronage.
Many had hoped and are still hoping that South Africa would be different. The ANC had started close to 100 years ago, had fought for over half a century, before coming to power in 1994. The thinking was that it was better prepared than most other African liberation movements to become the beacon of an African renaissance. To be fair, the ANC never descended into an ethnic party even in the heat of the battle against the largely Zulu party Nkatha.
Nevertheless, South Africa under the ANC is moving inexorably away from Mandela’s legacy. Zuma’s ascendancy itself against Mbeki in the wake of corruption scandals that have continued to trail his presidency speaks volumes about the future of South Africa post Mandela. The ANC is showing that like most of its fellow African political parties, there is a tendency to entrench a patronage system that thrives on feeding fat on State resources.
The Black Economic Empowerment program (BEE) has predictably created some new billionaires like Cyril Ramaphosa, the famous face of the labour movement’s resistance to apartheid and ANC’s chief negotiator during the negotiations to herald a new South Africa. However, for many ordinary South Africans, BEE is a mirage.
To crown this move away from Mandela’s legacy was the unfortunate killing of scores of black miners during a labour strike. The miners, who had been the backbone of the ANC struggle against apartheid, would themselves be mowed down in the same manner that the apartheid oppressors did. What irony! Little wonder that Zuma was booed when he rose to speak at the Mandela memorial.
South Africa post Mandela, mirrors most of Africa, post its independence leaders. Perhaps, only Botswana has bucked this trend. Africa’s challenge is that its future is not rooted in a worldview centered on the wellbeing of its peoples. This worldview must be rooted in an acceptance of the dignity of all men irrespective of colour, creed or status. Mandela, in a quintessential manner, embodied this elusive worldview and rose to become an unparalleled global statesman.
In choosing to spend 27 years in prison, preach forgiveness and build a rainbow nation, Mandela showed us that we could be defined by a moral compass that recognises our uniqueness and dignity as human beings irrespective of colour or creed. From this lofty height, must flow the ideals of representative democracy, economic emancipation, opportunity for all and compassion for the less able in society.
Africa’s cult of the big man and small institutions is the very anti-thesis of this position. It is embodied in the excesses of men- poor in ideals and vision- yet grasping for riches to obscure their emptiness. In this gallery of infamy are men like Mobutu, Bokassa, Boigny, Abacha, and many others too numerous to mention. These men of infamy have created the alluring example for most African leaders to follow. Zuma, it appears, is already flirting with this stereotype. What with his recent splurge, at public expense, on his personal mansion?
As Africans, we face a common challenge in redefining our destiny as an emancipated people and making our contribution to the global community. We are the last frontier to experience the liberating and redemptive values of human dignity, wellbeing and respect in the comity of nations.
One of Mandela’s greatest legacies is that this continent blighted by poor leadership shows a shining glimmer of hope through this towering figure. He showed us that the way to re-write our destiny is to promote the dignity of all men irrespective of colour, creed or status. The great challenge for Africans in the 21st century is to re-write our destiny. This is a task we must all sign up to.
For the African elite, the question is whether we will continue as the most analytical armchair critics the world has ever known or whether we will lead a renaissance where we use our privileges to re-write the destiny of our continent. For the upcoming generation, all hope is not lost. Mandela stands as a light shining in a dark place until the daystar of change dawns in our hearts. We must buck the trend, which seeks to consign our future into the dung heap of failed transitions.