It is said that some have greatness thrust upon them, some achieve greatness, and some are born great. Nelson Mandela falls into the last category, born great. There is no doubt about the fact that Rolihlahla (name bestowed by his father on his birth), Madiba (his clan name) and Nelson (name given to him by the missionary teacher on the first day at school) was born leader. He was most likely named Nelson after the British admiral but who knew that this colored boy would one day outshine the great admiral who defeated Napoleon.
A characteristic of the genuinely great, as opposed to the pseudo-great, is that they never are much interested in a show of pomposity and pride. Rather, they are almost always self-depreciating. They often belittle their Herculean feats and give credit to others rather than reserving it for themselves. Mandela was no different.
A lesser mortal would have refused when in 1993 Mandela obliged to be named the co-sharer of the Nobel Peace Prize, with De Klerk, the last white president of South Africa. Not Mandela, as he had the magnanimity to share the prize with the representative of the people who kept him imprisoned for over a quarter of a century, 27-years to be exact. These were the same people who had branded the freedom fighter a rebel, and the same people who planned that he would die an ignominious death behind bars in a small cell at Robben island.
Mandela was great because having it within his power to name himself the South African president for life (which, as history shows, most men would do when presented the opportunity) he chose to serve one term. In addition, he didn’t keep the office restricted to his family in an effort to start a dynasty in South Africa. Not the great Mandela, he held free and fair elections and saw to it that a true representative of the people held the office.
Historians compare him to Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., but a common man commented,”Greater than Martin Luther King because he persuaded a powerful minority to lay down its weapons and hand over power to a majority that they had previously feared. Much, much greater than Gandhi, who was recently revealed to have been a nasty anti-Black racist when in South Africa. In addition, greater than Lincoln because he spent long years in prison, not in a nice house provided by the government.” In a biography of Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India, he is quoted as having said, of his arrest in South Africa, “We were marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs… We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized.”
It is unfortunate that Queen Elizabeth and Benjamin Netanyahu will not be among the foreign dignitaries attending his funeral services. The Queen should attend his funeral even on a wheel chair to silence any critics that insist that racism is still alive. So should Netanyahu. In any case, it is still not too late and both Netanyahu and Queen Elizabeth can be among the attendees to pay their last homage to the champion of the underdog.
As in his life, so in his death his mission is to unite people and not to divide them on the basis of petty principles of class, caste, creed, color and principles. The world today sees Obama shaking hands with Raul Castro in Johannesburg. Over the next few days many other staunch enemies would shake hands and embrace each other as the great Mandela has provided them with this golden opportunity to put their differences aside, albeit for a few days. Long live Mandela the great.
Editorial by Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada