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Nelson Mandela's political trinity: the man,the messiah and the mystique.
by Chido Nwangwu
Specialto USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.comand CLASSmagazine and The Black BusinessJournal
(First written on April 19,1999, exclusively for USAfrica, updatedafter his retirement as President)
Nelson Mandela, preeminent statesman, political superstar, titanof Africa's politics, one of the world's moral authorities, Africa'smost astute and formidable political lion became president emeritus,and the gracefully retired father of the nation in June 1999.
I wrote and published this tribute only 60 days preceding hisretirement and as other African Presidents and business executivesplanned to gather in Houston for the remarkable Corporate Council onAfrica 1999 summit for attracting capital and investments to Africa.In many ways, Mandela is the living catalyst for the recentexponential growth of African,African-Americanand the wider American entrepreneurial and diplomaticexchanges.
As his Brother Presidents and the creme dé la creme ofU.S-Africa business and diplomatic circuits toast to the quantum leapin the volume and substance of trade between our two continents, ascultural ambassadors of the southern Africa region and other climesconsort and enchant all of us the magnificent Houston internationalfestival let's take a few minutes to attempt another word portrait ofa man who is certainly the greatest political figure in the recenthistory of people of African ancestry. He talked the talk, andwalked the walk. He's at once visionary and practician; excusethe latter usage.
In my view, there's a compelling political trinity to NelsonMandela: the man, the messiah and the mystique. Hence, it wasduring his 80th birthday on July 18, 1998 that I argued in variousmedia outlets in Southern Africa and in the Voice of America andWorldNet television tribute to Mandela that those who expected him toturn their lives around by the break of dawn are awakening to acertain realization that the Messiah Mandela does not make milkthrough incantations! Yet, we must accept the fact that thosewho feel that President Mandela's government has failed to fulfiltheir yearnings and lofty expectations constitute a sizeable butsmaller slice of millions of Black and Colored SouthAfricans.
I recall taking time out from the 100 year-old hotel in whichwe were lodged in Cape Town late March, 1998, (during our visit withU.S President Bill Clinton to parts of Africa) to go into theless-privileged, run-down quarters of the city to talk with a numberof suffering Blacks. I also shared some time with some homelessteenagers ( five of them, aged between 8 and 19) and a few wearyadults (in their 40s and 60s). I sought to know theirassessment of President Mandela. Their refrain: Mandela needsto do more! They feel he is forgetting "us." They all said inmany ways: "We thought his presidency was going to completely andquickly improve our lives. We're left out. We're nothappy...."
Translation: Idealism meets scarce resources in SouthAfrica! In South Africa, I noticed that the radical Blacks andColoreds still see Mandela, wrongly I must add, as a dignifiedcaretaker 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'stechnocratic 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 andinequities. Also, I've had the privilege of meeting three ofthe four most significant historical figures who play(ed) veryimportant roles in that country's transition from apartheid to amulti-racial society. First, the remarkable former PresidentF.W de Klerk here in Houston. Then, the amiable Bishop DesmondTutu. Of course, the Mahdiba himself, Nelson Mandela.
Why do we celebrate Mandela's life?
First, he is most famous for staring down and vanquishing thegoons and racist archdeacons of separatism and economic violence whoran the evil policy of state-sponsored mayhem called 'apartheid' inhis homeland.
Second, for remaining the most relevant living person of Africandescent who has given impetus and cause for African-Americans to seekinstitutional and daily business and physical presence inside theAfrican continent. Third, his moral authority derives from hisselfless fortitude and enduring, exemplary sacrifices. Mandelais neither intimidated by raw power nor the attractions of luxuriesand allurement of money.
Fourth, his example as a study in forthrightness. Aleadership whereby what you see is what you get. Hence, it wastypical Mandela, unenfeebled by age, unrestrained by arthritis, andunintimidated by the legitimate concerns and arrogations of hisfriend, the super-power president Bill Clinton, to confront thelatter on issues of principle.
Mandela has also, in some ways, attacked the stinking hypocrisy ofAmerica's right-wing politicians and media spin doctors. Weremember North Carolina's right-wing Senator, Jesse Helms, as thelatter day pro-apartheid regime's cheerleader-in-chief in the U.SCongress. His raucous choristers had the likes of GeorgeF. Will, Pat J. Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh, Rev. JerryFalwell, Pat Robertson and a confederacy of other conservatives whohemmed, hawed and distorted every turn towards a multi-racial SouthAfrica. Recall that Will, Buchanan & Co were misleadingAmericans as they disparaged the civil rights movement and others forsupporting Mandela whom they foolishly and falsely labeled a"Communist!" History has shown the foolishness of thelabel.
Fifth, his graciousness and capacity to forgive communal sins andwickedness masquerading as government. Until you see (or may begraphic and accurate images of the inhuman conditions andpsychological warfare imposed on him and his colleagues of theAfrican National Congress, you may never adequately know whyMandela's capacity to forgive and rebuild has such globalrespect. Hence, I am thankful that I entered and observed onMarch 26, 1998, the lonesome jail room where Mandela was kept for 25painful years in the isolated, deadly Robben Island.
We toured the Island with Rev. Jesse L. Jackson,Clinton's close personal aide Bruce Lindsey, Congressional BlackCaucus champion California congresswoman Maxine Waters, Sam Donaldsonof ABCNews, New York Congressman Charles Rangel, BET's RobertJohnson, Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time magazine, ScottPelley of CBS News, Melanie Lawson of KTRK Channel 13, Houston, and anumber of others. Sixth, we celebrate Mandela because afterfive years in office and almost 81 years of a rugged but worthy life,Mandela has shattered a number of other ancient and fatally-flawedbogeys to smithereens. He has made nonsense of the string ofquasi-racist mythologies and knee-jerk ill-logic concocted by theGeorge F. Wills, Pat Robertsons, Rush Limbaughs and Jesse Helmsof America to create a global 'White scare' and run on thepost-apartheid South African economy.
Also, Walter Mead, the acclaimed and advertised columnist forWorth magazine terribly misanalyzed and issued way-off predictionsabout South Africa's economy led by "Blacks" and Mandela. Anyway, he's an "expert" on U.S economies, therefore, pray, he knowsall about the "future" of South Africa! Fact: The economy underMandela's presidency has attracted more international capital under astable, justiceable political economy. The gathering in HoustonApril 24-28, cannot be divorced from the opportunities which SouthAfrica offers American, and other business persons/corporations.
What's Mandela's record? Since becoming president in thespring of 1994, Mandela's economic policy has not only achieved anexpansion in the percentage of growth and created a broad-basedindustrialization efforts, the economy has become more attractive forinternational capitalists.
It's more stable than under the hateful, and misleading and putridopulence of a few under apartheid. Yet, the socio-economicprofile of South Africa cannot be described as "rosy" and fullyequitable. Not quite! The deprivations in Soweto cannotbe divorced from the terrible "deals" by some influential players inthe system, Blacks and Whites.
Yet, some see Mandela's challenging task to utilize the governmentas a mechanism to enhance access and "fairness" to all, especiallythe deprived. For example, an Afrikaans staff of the UnitedStates Information Agency who drove me from the airport to the plushMichelangelo Hotel in Johannesburg said "We know Blacks want this andthat but they have to take it easy because we, Afrikaans, feel thatall our privileges and positions are going away. I commendMandela because everyone is asking him for one thing or theother. He is trying to be fair to all." That will be Mbeki'sburden, soon.
This lanky, well-spoken driver who reminded me he was very"comfortable driving a Black man" (that is, my ordinary self, whowould have been driven to a pit of hate rather than the Michelangelojust a few years before Mandela and his team scattered and conqueredthe temples of apartheid.) We must note that the expansion of therelative influence of Black South Africans through their newempowering instruments of state power and private leverage since thedefeat of apartheid has been very modest. Downtown Johannesburgand Cape Town, especially the spotless Pretoria remain bastions ofWhite/Afrikaans economic dominance.
Regardless, there has been major progress for middle class Blackswho have unprecedented access to the bureaucracy and privatecapital. They have partnerships with internationalorganizations, too - especially African-Americans who areestablishing tertiary and sub-strategic industries andcommunity-based service businesses.
When all is said and done, Mandela's greatest legacy will remainthat he has lived a life of fighting against the predatory, vile andboisterous mix of Anglo-Dutch, Afrikaans, Euro-Caucasian and othereconomic scavengers who took over through armed, brutal force, themost beautiful, gold-rich and breathtaking southerly cape of theAfrican continent. They could not break his will; they madepeace and he led a powerful, promising country composed of manyethnic nations to the lips of the 21st century. Mandela hasbeen governing with ill-will toward none and affirmativeopportunities for all those previously locked down and locked out ofSouth Africa's rich resources and lands. He may yet teach thedistortion artists who miscast the reason and value of "affirmationaction" in the U.S a thing or two. That's an issue for anotherday. Back to The Man.
Mandela, rock ribbed nationalist, visionary, exemplary icon inpersonal dignity, durable boxer, principled symbol for all believersin the inevitable triumph of committed democratic forces over anyarmy/gang of tyranny and oppression in Africa and elsewhere, hasbecome this decade's ultimate measure for statesmanship, leadership,character and will. To Mandela, for your humility andgreatness, firm resolve and friendly, humorous dispositions, allrolled into one mythical, complicated but uniquely amiablepersonality, here's a toast to you before you leave in June 1999 asSouth Africa's president, and a few weeks before your 81st birthday:Mahdiba, may your lineage endure another 81 million years!
ChidoNwangwu, recipient of the Journalism Excellence award(1997), is Founder and Publisher of USAfricaonline.com (firstAfrican-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published onthe internet), USAfrica The Newspaper,CLASS magazineand TheBlack Business Journal. He has served as an adviserto the Mayor of Houston on international business (Africa) andappears as an analyst on CNN, VOA, NPR, CBS News, NBC and ABC newsaffiliates. Cell direct: 832-45-CHIDO (24436).Also, see Tiger Woods is no NelsonMandela!By Chido Nwangwu
This USAfricaonline.com commentary is copyrighted. Archivingon any other web site or newspaper is unauthorized except with aWritten Approval by USAfricaonline.comFounder. copyright © 1999 USAfrica MediaNetworks. 8303 SW Freeway, Suite100, Houston, Texas 77074. Phone:713-270-5500.
Nelson Mandela celebrates his 89th birthday, launching a humanitarian campaign along with former President Jimmy Carter, ex-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other "elders" of the global village. The initiative stems from an idea by British entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel to create a world council of elders to tackle issues such as conflict, AIDS and global warming. "This group of international leaders will share how they intend to work together to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity in addressing some of the world's toughest problems," organizers said in a statement.
Branson and Gabriel, who founded an international human rights organization and championed the anti-apartheid cause, attended part of a week of festivities for Mandela's birthday. A children's party that has become an annual fixture wraps things up July 24. Before that, events will feature Bill Clinton and soccer legend Pele, who will play in a special star-studded match to honor Mandela.
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Impeachment process shows Nigerian democracy "is alive... being tested." Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo has said that the impeachment process shows that "democracy is alive, is being tested, and being tried.... What they (the legislators) have tried to do in the democratic way, which is not easy, would probably have been done by taking arms or by -- with bullets. So, but with democracy, of course, some people feel that this is the way this should be, and then I have an opportunity to defend myself. There is discussion. There is dialogue. There is a decision. There is fairness." He made these comments when he appeared on Tuesday September 17, 2002 on CNN International to discuss the issues of impeachment facing him, the allegations of corruption, abuse of the constitution and deployment of soldiers ina civilian environment which led to the "massacre of civilians" in Odi (Bayelsa) and Zaki Biam (Benue). On the charges by international human rights organizations and Nigerian media that his government has been involved in actions which have led to the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, the retired General gave a surprising answer. He was asked that "as many as 10,000 people, it's being reported, have been killed in Nigeria (in) communal rivalries, and the number is believed to be increasing. And people are saying that although President Obasanjo has done a lot of good for Nigeria, you're accused of not -- accused of failing to halt that spiraling violence."
Obasanjo: Let me say this to you, when you put the question of 10,000 -- 10,000 people dying in Nigeria, of course, for a population of over 120 million people...." But USAfricaonline.com Founder and recipient of the Journalism Excellence award (1997), Chido Nwangwu, who appeared on the same program as as a CNN International analyst (Africa) pointed out that "when (President Obasanjo) answered that in a country of 100 million that 10,000 people are said to have died, as if that was a small number, that in itself reflects a disconnect with the concerns of Nigerians. The second one is that when the risk is civil disagreement, the police are required to intervene in the country. And the deployment of the armed forces of Nigeria requires at least some consultation, however modest, with the parliament." Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of Nigeria's Daily Times continued that "the third factor that is equally important to underscore is that the armed forces of Nigeria moved in for a punitive action rather than just containing a civil disagreement." He noted in USAfricaonline.com backgrounder "it was revealing and interesting interesting discussing Nigeria's issues with its leader - under the current circumstances of an increasingly out-of-schedule elections and the gathering storm of an impeachment process by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, predominantly by Obasanjo's party members." See rush transcript of the CNN International news program.
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