Tata Madiba at 101

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esterday, July 18, marked the  101st birthday of Africa’s greatest statesman,political liberator and anti-Apartheid struggle icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

The occasion raises questions about the meaning of Mandela, a man who spent a huge part of his adult and productive life incarcerated across three prisons:Robben Island,Pollsmoor and Victor Vester, who, yet upon his release, forgave his jailers refusing to be vindictive or exact revenge against them despite the enormity of State power he wielded.Instead, he embraced a policy of truth and reconciliation as a mechanism to heal the divided nation leading to establishment of a non-racial and non-sexist democratic society.

Others have however wondered why Mandela was able to forgive the repressive Boers and not his estranged wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela, who bore his kids.

Some argue prison returned to South Africa a tired and pliant Mandela who reneged from the precepts of the Freedom Charter in a bid to structure negotiated settlement and compromise through the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa).

For all the serenity and mythology that enveloped his public persona, Mandela was a complex and flawed personality nevertheless his values, moral authority and convictions still radiate and matter across the geo-political spectrum.

As South Africans walk with their pockets full of a dazzling array of human rights, sight ought not to be lost of the supreme personal and collective sacrifices made by their fore bearers including Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Walter and Albertina Sisulu (this is also her centenary).

Long custodial sentences and exile visited the young firebrand politicians who dared to stare the apartheid regime in the eye with the threat of a militant resistance as opposed to a pacific struggle. Many others such as Msholozi Jacob Zuma had to contend with the daily possibility of arrest and the attendant torture by dodging the State security apparatus.

Awash with a wave of cynical historic revisionism, Madiba’s legacy has lately suffered from increasing scrutiny and contestation in light of yawning economic disparities between the natives and whites.

The more controversial question however is what the successive administrations had done to actualise the economic liberation project subsequent to attainment of political freedom and flag independence.

The portrayal of Mandela as a ‘sell-out’ constitutes a shallow distraction from his historical contribution in the fight for civil rights and political liberation.

Allied to this gross misrepresentation is an attempt to erase history whilst vindicating the inherent failures of post Mandela leadership(of Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe,Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa) to whom the baton was passed without undue delay.

Unwittingly such critical counter-revolutionary narratives also serve to sanitize and validate the decades of institutionalised economic marginalisation policies of the apartheid regime.

Mandela succeeded to stave off civil strife thus averting a blood bath and ethnic polarization of a polity to the amazement of the world.His magnanimity and titanic figure was always bound to be fertile ground for cheap political opportunism and racist populism.

The modern generation rather than cast aspersions must build on what Madiba set out to achieve by eliciting significant dividends in the spheres of economy,education and land, amongst others.What with the tools of a perfect reconciliation template and a political platform that Madiba bequeathed them.

To honour Madiba’s legacy is to fervently pursue his liberal progressive ideals by completing his vision of a better life for all.

Belated happy birthday Tata Madiba. n

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