– V.N. Balakrishna | December 16, 2013
Ahmedabad : In passing away of Nelson Mandela what Jawaharlal Nehru said on Mahatma Gandhi rings true for this statesman: The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it . . . . The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country (world) was no ordinary light . . . . For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error. . . .
What President Obama said about Mandela’s “willingness to step down after one term” is worthy of all praise for Mandela did not foist any member of his family after he quit, a rarity seen only in historic greats such as ‘Father of America’ George Washington who quit after two terms keeping his family members away from seat of power. In praises lavished by President of Cuba Raul Castro “prophet of reconciliation,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon “he taught by example” and President Pranab Mukherjee “hope for the downtrodden” were all pointers to Mandela’s selfless sacrifice to the cause of human freedom. Mandela’s struggle was phenomenal seeing the way he suffered indignities heaped by the South African Oligarchy. Certainly the enormous void will be hard to fill.
There was a flurry following Mandela’s death when world leaders queued up to attend his memorial service on December 10 at FNB Stadium in Soweto. Yet, many had never met Mandela before. President Mukherjee too came with a delegation comprising UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, among others.
After being elected president in May 1994 following first multi-racial elections in South Africa, Mandela like Gandhiji stuck to ahimsa. He wanted to build a country that did not discriminate between Whites and Blacks or in giving special privileges to any group though Blacks could lay claim to one for having endured untold sufferings. His “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” was one of its kind never seen before towards unifying the nation.
Mandela was imprisoned for treason for 27 years. As he stood in the dock on 20 April 1964 to defend himself he stirred the conscience of humanity saying: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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 need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
As a befitting tribute Nobel Peace Prize was bestowed on him in 1993 which he shared with his White counterpart Frederik Willem de Klerk “for peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”
It was tribute indeed when Andrew Mlangeni, a family friend of Mandela, said, “He created hope where there was none.” “He touched my heart, my soul, my life and those of the millions of South Africans,” Mlangeni said which resonated in Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “Today was more a celebration than a funeral. A celebration of a very long life, but a very important life.”
Even in death Mandela remained a unifying force when two sworn enemies Cuba and the US shook hands. Though he lies buried quietly in Qunu, the Eastern Cape, where he spent much of his childhood, the essence of this man will stand out among the beacon lights of history as a man who made impossible possible.