Goodbye Madiba

Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela struggled against white supremacy and racist bigotry, “black-on-black” violence and in the latter years of his life he resisted efforts to sanctify his image.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Nelson Mandela's death has reinforced his status as a unique figure in world politics, with people around the world underlining his courage, stamina and magnanimity.

But Mandela, probably the world's first superstar politician, was a much more complex man, changing positions and never shying away from admitting he was wrong in his quest for freedom and justice.

He was, and remains, a symbol of grace, humility and dignity. But Mandela was also a principled and outspoken leader who flirted with communism and embraced violence during the 50-year struggle against apartheid.

For long years, the man affectionately known as Madiba by his own people was seen as a communist terrorist by UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan.

After 27 years in prison over charges of conspiracy to violently overthrow the government, Mandela renounced violence and as the Cold War neared an end he was released following intense international pressure, including from the Iron Lady herself who despite holding on to her no-sanctions position she recognised that only through his release South Africa would emerge from the vicious cycle of violence.

Despite then becoming the darling of liberals in the Western world, Mandela, who died on 5 December at age 95, was a radical democrat who in his latter years befriended some of the West's foes, such as Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. 

Throughout his life, Mandela struggled against white supremacy and racist bigotry, "black-on-black" violence and in the latter years of his life he resisted efforts to sanctify his image.

After spending almost three decades in prison, Mandela understood that allowing himself to be consumed by the injustice he suffered would only condemn his nation to a cycle of further violence and bloodshed. However, this transformation only became apparent in what is probably the most important phase of his life, between 1990 and 1994.

Upon being released from jail in 1990, prisoner 466/64 recognised that only through reconciliation and unity could South Africa become the rainbow nation he envisioned. Even in his most militant days, Mandela maintained that once the apartheid regime is removed from power, a new South Africa had to built upon the peaceful coexistence of all different races which had lived in the land for centuries.

Mandela stood for anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist values, however he had more in common with Fidel Castro than with Bill Clinton. The post-cold war world he returned to in 1990, was radically different to the one he had left behind before his incarceration.

Although he did grasp the hyper-capitalist world and carried out business with the West, ideologically Mandela remained an African nationalist and outspoken critic of western imperialism.

For many who followed his life closely, that commitment to socialist values and instinctive solidarity with those he saw as fellow strugglers against oppression, colonialism and imperialism continued to burn strongly even in the years after his release from prison and the end of apartheid.

Vehemently opposed to the wars in Iraq and Kosovo, Mandela understood the West's double standards better than anyone else, and he could identify with the interminable Palestinian struggle against illegal Israeli occupation.

Born on 18 July 1918 in the village of Mvezo to a family of royal descent in the Thembu tribe, he was given the name of Rolihlahla, a Xhosa term colloquially meaning troublemaker, and in later years he became known by his clan name, Madiba.

And a troublemaker he was, at 22 challenging the authorities at the University of Fort Hare, an elite black institution, earning himself a suspension. He later fled to Johannesburg after his mentor and guardian Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo had arranged a marriage for him.

It was in Johannesburg that Mandela was introduced to the African National Congress (ANC) which he would later lead. While working as a clerk in a law firm and later studying law, Mandela met ANC activists and communist party leaders who had a wielding influence on his thoughts and political formation.

A supporter of African nationalism, in his initial phase Mandela believed that black Africans should be entirely independent in their struggle for political self-determination and in 1944 he was a founding member of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). Embracing a militant and radical form of nationalism, he distanced himself from communists and together with his cadres began advocating direct action against apartheid, such as boycotts and strikes.

However, in 1951, Mandela's arguments against a racially united front was outvoted within the ANC, which led to a radical re-think on his part. Influenced by the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, he was involved in the preparations for a joint Defiance Campaign against apartheid with Indian and communist groups.

Mandela was no saint, blessed with a wicked sense of humour and a short fuse as his family and close aides would testify.

But he the country away from the perils of a catastrophic civil war and established solid democratic institutions, including the judiciary and Africa's largest economy.

He realised his dream through violent and peaceful manners and today's South Africa is the evidence of his unmatched colossal stature in world history.

A freedom fighter who embraced his captors. A terrorist who became a symbol of peace. The father of a nation and an inspiration to all, irrespective of race, creed or ideology.

A great person and leader; an inspiration to us all! If present day African leaders had just one single nail matching that of Mandela, as we say in Malta-Africa would be a wonderfull place to live! Thank you Mr Mandela : a man who sacrificed his life and yet died without bitterness spite or hatred.