Mandela: A Life of Struggle and Triumph
The mortal remains of Nelson Madiba Mandela rest at his birthplace of Qunu, but his immortal vision of Africa united and at peace with itself will stay with us through eternity. Madiba was the crown jewel of African nationalism and its arduous battles against Western colonial occupation of Africa.
His early beginnings as an activist were intricately connected to the unfolding forces of the African liberation movement, which emerged at the turn of the twentieth century with the single goal of defeating colonialism and regaining Africa’s independence. He was the last of Africa’s Founding Fathers like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau, Augustino Neto of Angola, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Milton Margai of Sierra Leone, and Houphouet Boigny of Ivory Coast. His ascendency as the first democratically elected President of a free South Africa in 1994 marked the triumph of African nationalism and the effective end of Africa’s anti-colonial struggles.
The death of President Mandela provides us with an opportunity to look back at the life of an exemplary African leader whose legacy will always inspire us in our struggles to advance social justice and human dignity. His was a life of constant struggle and agitation, interrupted only by the twenty-seven years he spent in prison. Far from breaking his spirit and will to fight, the years in prison only hardened his resolve to continue the long march to freedom. No hill of despair was insurmountable for him; no river of personal pain was too wide to cross; and no indignity in prison made him to question his commitment to the liberation struggle of his people. He did not buckle under the weight of apartheid tyranny nor did he lose his sense of destiny. He was, in essence, a prisoner who could not be conquered, bought or sold at the expense of his people.
From activist to prisoner and statesman, Madiba embodied the finest tradition of service and sacrifice. He carried himself with a deep sense of pride as an African on whose shoulder rested the fate and hope of a nation in transition from white minority rule to a rainbow nation with liberty for all. Every critical analyst would agree that the new South Africa of today is both Mandela’s baby and its Chief Architect. He was a master strategist who knew how to straddle the delicate balance between the demands of change on the part of the oppressed and the fears of the oppressor. Like a well-trained midwife, Madiba assured South Africans of all backgrounds that the new South Africa will be capable of meeting the challenges of post-apartheid transformation of the country. He became the consummate Hope Dealer and Salesman of a dream for his people and the world at large. Even those who once called him “terrorist” quickly changed their vocabulary after drinking the Mandela Kool-Aid! Without doubt, it could be argued that only Madiba had the ingredients to pull it off with his infectious grace, charm and charisma.
If he had so chosen, Mandela would have easily become one of Africa’s failed Life Presidents by pursuing the path of one-party dictatorship because of the super-majority that the African National Congress enjoyed in parliament during his presidency. However, he proved to be a leader with an abiding faith in democracy as a necessary component of African liberation and development. He refused to be the Big Man with concentrated powers in the Office of the Presidency or executive branch. In this sense, Madiba proved to be a great student of history.
He learned from the mistakes of other Founding Fathers of post-colonial Africa who overstayed their usefulness in office. By so doing, he became Africa’s preeminent elder statesman. What a remarkable fit by a man who once declared matter-of-factly at the age of thirty-three that he would someday be the first black president of South Africa!
Madiba gave us a reason to embrace the truism that, even in the darkest hour when all seems lost and nothing stands between us and the deep blue sea, the forces of oppression, exploitation and greed will eventually crumble in the face of a determined people in pursuit of freedom and justice. As we say goodbye to Africa’s Favorite Son of the hour, let us remember the unfinished business at hand: the long march to a strong and democratic United States of Africa. The powerful currents of African nationalism which galvanized the masses of African people to end colonialism on the continent should be awakened for the final battle for African unity. Liberation and development are two legs of the Golden Stool of African independence, but it cannot stand without a third leg. African unity is the missing third leg of the Golden Stool of African independence. Therefore, it should be the responsibility of Africans to dedicate our lives to this battle of the century. With unity, this will be the African Century. If we prove equal to the task, African unity will be the bulwark against another scramble for Africa and the best guarantor of African independence for eternity.
African unity is the ultimate triumph of African nationalism. Let’s build the United States of Africa in memory of Mandela, Nkrumah, Toure, Lumumba, Sobukwe, Nyerere, Cabral, Machel and for generations to come. As Mandela said, “I dream of the realization of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent.”
Rest in Peace, Nelson Madiba Mandela!
Forward to the United States of Africa!!!
By Alie Kabba, Executive Director of United African Organization in Chicago. For more information, visit www.uniteafricans.org.