He negotiated with the apartheid White regime and without bloodshed shared the ruling powers with the White minority, abiding with principles of equal opportunity to all citizens
He adhered to the Constitution of the country to the letter which was adopted in May 1996 by the Parliament of South Africa and never transgressed any of its clauses to be in power for life
During this critical juncture when our country is going through a constitutional crisis, reading about the life of a statesman like Nelson Mandela seems to be an interesting learning experience to us all.
Five years ago, Nelson Mandela, world renowned African leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first Black President of South Africa, passed away. Many leaders and representatives from 90 countries attended his funeral. The Blacks who had an overwhelming majority did not have any political right in the apartheid South Africa. Mandela fought for one person one vote and the rights of his brothers and sisters. He was tried unjustly as a terrorist and a political agitator and was imprisoned for 26 years from 1964 to 1990.
Once released from prison, he negotiated with the White Prime Minster W.F. De Klerk for a democratic Constitution where all citizens would have voting rights. In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected as the President of South Africa with an overwhelming majority. He negotiated with the apartheid White regime and without bloodshed shared the ruling powers with the White minority, abiding with principles of equal opportunity to all citizens. Former White Prime Minister W.F. De Clerk became one of the members of his Cabinet.
Mandela was admired throughout the whole world for the way he negotiated an amicable political settlement with the White supremacists. He was called the Gandhi of modern times and besides the Nobel Peace Prize, he was awarded multiple honours from all around the world including the US Presidential Medal for Peace, Lenin Peace Prize from Russia and Bharat Ratna from India.
Refused Second Term
The 1996 Constitution allowed him to run a second term. But in 1997 he resigned from the party leadership and refused to run for a second term. At the time of retirement, the Gallop polls showed 80% support for President Mandela. After retirement, he was active in initiating social activities to uplift the ordinary Black African people. He also raised funds to find a solution to the AIDS epidemic among the Blacks in Africa.
He overcame a bout of prostate cancer after retirement, but got respiratory infections at the end of his life and was hospitalised on several occasions. On December 8, 2013 he succumbed to a severe lung infection.
In 1994 he divulged his political ideology:
“A friend once asked me how I could reconcile my creed of African nationalism with a belief in dialectical materialism. For me, there was no contradiction. I was first and foremost an African nationalist fighting for our emancipation from minority rule and the right to control our own destiny. But at the same time, South African and African continents are part of the larger world. Our problems, while distinctive and special were not unique, and a philosophy that placed those problems in an international and historical context of the greater world and the course of history were valuable. I was prepared to use whatever means necessary to expedite the erasure of human prejudice and the end of chauvinistic and violent nationalism.”
Lessons we can learn
The world’s politicians can learn an enormous number of lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela. He was strongly urged by his party supporters not to resign from the party leadership. But he trained two or three younger people in the African National Congress and gave up his leadership to them. He fought and won the democratic rights for his people with patience and sacrifice. He spent 26 years of his life in prison facing harsh conditions because he was convinced about his mission to his people.
The whole nation and leaders of the other African countries urged him to contest the presidential election at least for one more term. He gracefully rejected to run for a second term. According to opinion polls, 80% of South African people wanted him to contest. He never thought that the survival of the South African democracy depended on him being at the helm of the government. He once said, “I am not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”
He adhered to the Constitution of the country to the letter which was adopted in May 1996 by the Parliament of South Africa and never transgressed any of its clauses to be in power for life. He respected the Constitution which enshrined a series of institutions to place checks on political and administrative authority within the constitutional democracy. He respected the will of the people both Blacks and Whites in the country.
He worked hard even after retirement from politics to eradicate the AIDS virus, poverty and hunger from the African continent. From the international monetary awards he received, he created the Mandela Foundation in 1999 based in Johannesburg to focus on rural development of Africans, school construction and combatting HIV/AIDS. He created the Mandela Rhodes Foundation to provide postgraduate scholarships to bright African students.
He publicly criticized some of the African leaders such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who were holding on to their power.
He strongly opposed the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the US-UK intervention in Iraq, labelling the Iraqi invasion as a “tragedy.” A strong follower of Mahatma Gandhi of India and Martin Luther King of America, he gained universal franchise and political freedom for his Black South Africans. His biographers called him, “one of the most revered persons of our time.” Another called him a “global icon.”