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The East African : December 9th 2013
6 The EastAfrican NEWS DECEMBER 7-13,2013 END OF AN ERA Lessons from Nelson: Mandela’s death leaves an empty savannah in the heart of African leadership By stepping down afte≥ one te≥m in o∞ce, Mandela acknowledged that good leade≥ship means putting othe≥s fi≥st By DANIEL K. KALINAKI The EastAfrican O n his way to Natal to vote in South Africa’s first demo- cratic election in 1994, Nelson Mandela stopped by the gravesite of John Langalibalele Dube. Dube had been the founding president of the South African Native National Congress between 1912 and 1917. In 1923, the organisation had morphed into the African National Congress. Mandela was on his way to becoming South Africa’s first black president and first universally elected leader, but his stopover was a reminder of the pedigree of the organisation he headed, and the work done by others to successfully oppose the apartheid regime. Mandela, who died on Thurs- day night aged 95, was the face of the ANC, South Africa, Africa and, quite arguably, leadership in the world. However, it is a testimony to his humility and selflessness that he allowed the stories and the contributions of his fellow comrades to be told to a world that, desperate to find a hero among the figures of South African liberation, had already anointed him. African leaders have tended to airbrush the contributions of their comrades out of the official accounts of their struggles. When Mandela visited Kenya in 1990, he asked to see the mausoleum of Dedan Kimathi, the anti-colonial Mau Mau leader. Host President Daniel arap Moi was visibly upset, for Kimathi, whose remains lie in an unmarked grave, had been airbrushed out of Kenya’s Independence struggle. In Uganda, the contemporary narrative of reform and rebirth is told from 1986, when the NRA fighters captured power. Forgotten are the contributions of earlier regimes as well as the fighting groups that came together to oppose Idi Amin or join the NRA. In standing by his comrades and honouring the early heroes, Mandela taught us that a candle that lit the wicks of other candles did not suffer any diminishment in its stature or radiance. The credit paid to the likes of Nelson Mandela on March 21, 1994 greets the crowd at a rally to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the massacre of 69 black demonstrators by police in Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg. Picture: AFP Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Chris Hani, Joe Modise, Raymond Mhlaba, Jacob Zuma, Thabo Mbeki and others has in no way taken away from Mandela’s legacy or leadership. When the ANC took to arms on December 16, 1961, Mandela, as co-founder of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) armed group showed he was pragmatic enough to use vio- The year the African National Congress took to arms and established Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) 16.12.1961 lence to achieve political aims. To some, that marked him out as a terrorist; he would stay on the United States terror watch list until July 1, 1988, when he was 80 and coming to the end of his presidency. Yet Mandela shall be remem- bered as a man of peace for choosing to sheathe his weapons when the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993 brought South Africa to the brink of civil war and pressing instead for elections and a peaceful transition to popular and democratic rule. While many people will look back to the 27 years that Mandela spent in jail as the core of his legacy, the biggest lessons from his leadership are to be found in what he did when he acquired power. Africa is littered with libera- tion movements that took power promising fundamental changes, new dawns, and all sorts of social transformations, only to seek revenge against those in the ancient regimes, impose a new class of rapacious accumulators, or turn their guns onto their long-suffering populations. Mandela controversially chose to embrace white South Africans, rather than seek revenge and settle scores from the apartheid era. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” he famously said. Not everyone in the ANC agreed with Mandela. Unfazed, he calmly but firmly persuaded his comrades to choose peace and stability over war and an unending cycle of violence. He did not demand an apology from apartheid regime officials as a precondition for forgiveness (although confessions were encouraged and actively sought through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission); he gave every South African, regardless of skin colour, the benefit of the doubt and a second chance to move on. There are several lessons in there for present-day leaders, from the land disputes in Kenya, to the ethnic tensions MADIBA PREACHED PEACE Vusumuzi Buthelezi, 62, recalls the euphoria that swept the South African township of Soweto just before Mandela was released after 27 years in prison. “People would come from all parts of Soweto and meet here,” he said, drawing an imaginary circle to indicate the entire vicinity of Mandela’s house. Mr Buthelezi was 13 when Mandela was jailed. “When Mandela came out of prison, we were very radical. We said we are going to finish off these whites. But he was one of the first people to say, ‘No, no, for the good of the country, we can’t take the route of the civil war,’” said Martin Bonginkosi, a community development worker in Soweto. Despite tensions generated by events like the death of Chris Hani, another leading anti-apartheid campaigner, the country did not descend into chaos, and Mandela’s role in keeping it together would win him a joint Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Frederik Willem de Klerk, the man who had authorised his release from prison. in Rwanda, to religious tensions in Tanzania, to the almost daily clashes between the regime and its opponents in Uganda. Ultimately, the biggest les- son from Mandela was that one does not have to be in power to change the world. The defiance of his words at the end of the Rivonia Trial haunted the apartheid regime more than any homemade bombs could have and no jail in the world, not even one on a spit of rock off the tip of Cape Town could keep his urgent call for freedom bottled up. His humility Yet when Mandela took power he only ruled for one term. In choosing to step down Mandela was acknowledging his humility and humanity. It is not that he was frail — he went on to live 15 years after stepping down — but that he acknowledged that good leadership means putting others first, and accepting that no man or woman, not even one as special as Mandela, can have all the answers, solve all the problems. From Robert Mugabe, who People light candles outside Mandela’s house on Friday. Picture: AFP “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Nelson Mandela appears hell-bent on dying in office, to Yoweri Museveni, who has now ruled for a year longer than Mandela was in jail, to all the other African leaders toying with plans to change their constitutions; that is the lesson from Nelson. You are not a great leader until you project power and influence away from the trappings of office. Africa will never have another Mandela but that is one lesson the continent’s leaders can learn from the great man.
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