Why I celebrate MANDELA’s life, struggles and works.
South Africa’s successful, spectacular and first-class hosting of the world’s greatest sporting/soccer extravaganza, the World Cup 2010, is a fitting testimony to the actual greatness and vision of Madiba Nelson Mandela.
Mandela’s dedication in laying the foundation for a multi-racial, pan-human South Africa continues to propel the collective dignity of the African continent and shamed the so-called Afro-pessimists who believe no good can from Africa. Even amidst the poverty of the African and “colored” populations of South Africa, Dr. Mandela and the vanguard of change across South Africa have enhanced Black empowerment and destroyed apartheid/segregation laws.
Madiba Nelson Mandela remained the preeminent statesman, political superstar, titan of Africa’s politics, one of the world’s moral authorities, Africa’s most astute and formidable political lion. He served from 1994 to 1999 as the first South African president to be elected in a multi-racial, democratic election. Mandela went on to lead South Africa through the last stretch of a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy.
The year 2010, also, marks not only his 92nd birthday but the 20th anniversary of the release of Dr. Mandela. He was freed in February 1990 after spending 27 years in prison especially at the isolated Robben Island (near South Africa’s Table Bay, roughly 4 miles from Cape Town).
I’ll forever remember having walked inside and peeped through that historic Mandela jail cell at the dreaded Robben Island on March 27, 1998, alongside then Editor-in-chief of TIME magazine and later news chief of CNN, Walter Isaacson (and others) when President Bill Clinton made his first trip to South Africa and came to Robben Island. Come to the island of scourge and you will understand, in part, the simple greatness and towering grace of Nelson Mandela.
In 1999, he, unusually, became president emeritus of South Africa after only one term, and gracefully retired as father of the nation in June 1999. Yes; unusual in Africa and most of the developing and advanced world – where All politicians like to stay in power. He would have easily won reelection. But he chose not to; as a message to others.
In many ways, Mandela is the living catalyst for the recent exponential growth of African, African-
American and the wider American entrepreneurial and diplomatic exchanges.
I wrote and published the first version of this tribute only 60 days preceding his retirement and as other African Presidents and business executives planned to gather in Houston for the remarkable Corporate Council on Africa 1999 summit for attracting capital and investments to Africa. As his Brother Presidents and the creme dé la creme of U.S-Africa business and diplomatic circuits toast to the quantum leap in the volume and substance of trade between our two continents, as cultural ambassadors of the southern Africa region and other climes consort and enchant all of us the magnificent Houston international festival let’s take a few minutes to attempt another word portrait of a man who is certainly the greatest political figure in the recent history of people of African ancestry. He talked the talk, and walked the walk. He’s at once visionary and practician; excuse the latter usage.
In my view, there’s a compelling political trinity to Nelson Mandela: the man, the messiah and the mystique. Hence, it was during his 80th birthday on July 18, 1998 that I argued in various media outlets in Southern Africa and in the Voice of America and WorldNet television tribute to Mandela that those who expected him to turn their lives around by the break of dawn are awakening to a certain realization that the Messiah Mandela does not make milk through incantations!
Yet, we must accept the fact that those who feel that President Mandela’s government has failed to fulfil their yearnings and lofty expectations constitute a sizeable but smaller slice of millions of Black and Colored South Africans.
I recall taking time out from the 100 year-old hotel in which we were lodged in Cape Town late March, 1998, (during our visit with U.S President Bill Clinton to parts of Africa) to go into the less-privileged, run-down quarters of the city to talk with a number of suffering Blacks. I also shared some time with some homeless teenagers ( five of them, aged between 8 and 19) and a few weary adults (in their 40s and 60s). I sought to know their assessment of President Mandela. Their refrain: Mandela needs to do more! They feel he is forgetting “us.” They all said in many ways: “We thought his presidency was going to completely and quickly improve our lives. We’re left out. We’re not happy….”
Translation: Idealism meets scarce resources in South Africa! In South Africa, I noticed that the radical Blacks and Coloreds still see Mandela, wrongly I must add, as a dignified caretaker for the remnants of apartheid. On the other side, interestingly, the previous beneficiaries and yesterday’s oppressors, largely the Afrikaans, think Blacks are taking too much away, already. Those questions will be a challenge for Mandela’s technocratic and very able successor Thabo Mbeki.
I feel a special interest regarding Mandela and South Africa, among other personal reasons, for his years of statesmanship, principled engagement with life and its multifarious challenges and inequities. Also, I’ve had the privilege of meeting three of the four most significant historical figures who play(ed) very important roles in that country’s transition from apartheid to a multi-racial society. First, the remarkable former President F.W de Klerk here in Houston. Then, the amiable Bishop Desmond Tutu. Of course, the Mahdiba himself, Nelson Mandela.
Why do we celebrate Mandela’s life?
First, he is most famous for staring down and vanquishing the goons and racist archdeacons of separatism and economic violence who ran the evil policy of state-sponsored mayhem called ‘apartheid’ in his homeland.
Second, for remaining the most relevant living person of African descent who has given impetus and cause for African-Americans to seek institutional and daily business and physical presence inside the African continent. Third, his moral authority derives from his selfless fortitude and enduring, exemplary sacrifices. Mandela is neither intimidated by raw power nor the attractions of luxuries and allurement of money.
Fourth, his example as a study in forthrightness. A leadership whereby what you see is what you get. Hence, it was typical Mandela, unenfeebled by age, unrestrained by arthritis, and unintimidated by the legitimate concerns and arrogations of his friend, the super-power president Bill Clinton, to confront the latter on issues of principle.
Mandela has also, in some ways, attacked the stinking hypocrisy of America’s right-wing politicians and media spin doctors. We remember North Carolina’s right-wing Senator, Jesse Helms, as the latter day pro-apartheid regime’s cheerleader-in-chief in the U.S Congress. His raucous choristers had the likes of George F. Will, Pat J. Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and a confederacy of other conservatives who hemmed, hawed and distorted every turn towards a multi-racial South Africa.
Recall that Will, Buchanan & Co were misleading Americans as they disparaged the civil rights movement and others for supporting Mandela whom they foolishly and falsely labeled a “Communist!” History has shown the foolishness of the label.
Fifth, his graciousness and capacity to forgive communal sins and wickedness masquerading as government. Until you see (or may be graphic and accurate images of the inhuman conditions and psychological warfare imposed on him and his colleagues of the African National Congress, you may never adequately know why Mandela’s capacity to forgive and rebuild has such global respect. Hence, I am thankful that I entered and observed on March 26, 1998, the lonesome jail room where Mandela was kept for 25 painful years in the isolated, deadly Robben Island.
We toured the Island with Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Clinton’s close personal aide Bruce Lindsey, Congressional Black Caucus champion California congresswoman Maxine Waters, Sam Donaldson of ABCNews, New York Congressman Charles Rangel, BET’s Robert Johnson, Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time magazine, Scott Pelley of CBS News, Melanie Lawson of KTRK Channel 13, Houston, and a number of others. Sixth, we celebrate Mandela because after five years in office and almost 81 years of a rugged but worthy life, Mandela has shattered a number of other ancient and fatally-flawed bogeys to smithereens. He has made nonsense of the string of quasi-racist mythologies and knee-jerk ill-logic concocted by the George F. Wills, Pat Robertsons, Rush Limbaughs and Jesse Helms of America to create a global ‘White scare’ and run on the post-apartheid South African economy.
Also, Walter Mead, the acclaimed and advertised columnist for Worth magazine terribly misanalyzed and issued way-off predictions about South Africa’s economy led by “Blacks” and Mandela. Anyway, he’s an “expert” on U.S economies, therefore, pray, he knows all about the “future” of South Africa!
Fact: The economy under Mandela’s presidency has attracted more international capital under a stable, justiceable political economy. The gathering in Houston April 24-28, cannot be divorced from the opportunities which South Africa offers American, and other business persons/corporations.
What’s Mandela’s record? Since becoming president in the spring of 1994, Mandela’s economic policy has not only achieved an expansion in the percentage of growth and created a broad-based industrialization efforts, the economy has become more attractive for international capitalists.
It’s more stable than under the hateful, and misleading and putrid opulence of a few under apartheid. Yet, the socio-economic profile of South Africa cannot be described as “rosy” and fully equitable. Not quite! The deprivations in Soweto cannot be divorced from the terrible “deals” by some influential players in the system, Blacks and Whites.
Yet, some see Mandela’s challenging task to utilize the government as a mechanism to enhance access and “fairness” to all, especially the deprived. For example, an Afrikaans staff of the United States Information Agency who drove me from the airport to the plush Michelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg said “We know Blacks want this and that but they have to take it easy because we, Afrikaans, feel that all our privileges and positions are going away. I commend Mandela because everyone is asking him for one thing or the other. He is trying to be fair to all.” That will be Mbeki’s burden, soon.
This lanky, well-spoken driver who reminded me he was very “comfortable driving a Black man” (that is, my ordinary self, who would have been driven to a pit of hate rather than the Michelangelo just a few years before Mandela and his team scattered and conquered the temples of apartheid.) We must note that the expansion of the relative influence of Black South Africans through their new empowering instruments of state power and private leverage since the defeat of apartheid has been very modest. Downtown Johannesburg and Cape Town, especially the spotless Pretoria remain bastions of White/Afrikaans economic dominance.
Regardless, there has been major progress for middle class Blacks who have unprecedented access to the bureaucracy and private capital. They have partnerships with international organizations, too – especially African-Americans who are establishing tertiary and sub-strategic industries and community-based service businesses.
When all is said and done, Mandela’s greatest legacy will remain that he has lived a life of fighting against the predatory, vile and boisterous mix of Anglo-Dutch, Afrikaans, Euro-Caucasian and other economic scavengers who took over through armed, brutal force, the most beautiful, gold-rich and breathtaking southerly cape of the African continent. They could not break his will; they made peace and he led a powerful, promising country composed of many ethnic nations to the lips of the 21st century.
Mandela has been governing with ill-will toward none and affirmative opportunities for all those previously locked down and locked out of South Africa’s rich resources and lands. He may yet teach the distortion artists who miscast the reason and value of “affirmation action” in the U.S a thing or two. That’s an issue for another day. Back to The Man.
Mandela, rock ribbed nationalist, visionary, exemplary icon in personal dignity, durable boxer, principled symbol for all believers in the inevitable triumph of committed democratic forces over any army/gang of tyranny and oppression in Africa and elsewhere, has become this decade’s ultimate measure for statesmanship, leadership, character and will.
To Mandela, for your humility and greatness, firm resolve and friendly, humorous dispositions, all rolled into one mythical, complicated but uniquely amiable personality, here’s the same toast I made to you before you left in June 1999 as South Africa’s president; on your 81st birthday; and now on your 92nd birthday: Madiba, may your lineage endure!
•Dr. Chido Nwangwu, honored by the Washington-D. C.based National Immigration Forum for utilizing multimedia to fight authoritarianism and foster freedom of expression, is the Founder & Publisher of first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com, The Black Business Journal, CLASSmagazine, PhotoWorks.TV, AchebeBooks.com, USAfrica.TV and several blogs. He served on the board of the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., the NAACP Houston; publicity committee of the Holocaust Museum, Houston; recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in May 2009; served on Houston former Mayor Lee Brown’s international business advisory board (Africa), and has appeared as an analyst on CNN, VOA, SABC, etc. Also, see Tiger Woods is no Nelson Mandela!
(First written on April 19, 1999, exclusively for USAfrica, updated after his retirement as President, on February 11, 2010 remarking 20th anniversary of his release from apartheid South Africa prison and updated July 15, ahead of his 92nd birthday on July 17, 2010). This USAfricaonline.com commentary is copyrighted. Archiving on any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized except with a Written Approval by USAfrica Founder. copyright © 1999, 2010. ChidoNwangwu. USAfrica Media Networks. Phone: 713-270-5500.
CNN International profiles USAfrica’s Founder Chido Nwangwu. http://usafricaonline.com/2010/06/29/cnn-chido-usafrica/
On June 24, 2010, CNN International reporter/producer/camera team visited USAfrica’s editorial headquarters in Houston, Texas, for 3.5 hours to document a forthcoming CNNInternational profile of USAfrica’s Founder & Publisher Dr. Chido Nwangwu. http://photoworks.tv/cnn-chido-usafrica2010
The recordings/interviews were wrapped up on Friday June 25, 2010.
A few pixs from the event are available for preview, exclusively at the African diaspora community’s #1 pictorial features web site www.PhotoWorks.TV
CNN also recorded the editorial board/production meeting of USAfrica and CLASSmagazine on key issues including the USAfrica comparison of the oil spills in the Niger Delta to the environmental disaster in the U.S Gulf of Mexico, electoral reforms in Nigeria, Africa and World Cup 2010, etc.
USAfrica is assessed by major policy and media organizations including the New York Times as the largest and arguably the most influential African-owned, U.S-based multimedia networks; founded since 1993 in Houston by Chido Nwangwu. http://usafricaonline.com/chido.html