One of the biggest stories of the past year was the death of Nelson Mandela. A recent ‘celebration of life’ had in attendance world leaders and heads of government, including David Cameron and Barack Obama.
A few days ago, the funeral took place in Mandela’s home town of Qunu. Once again, the event was attended by mourners from far and wide including Prince Albert of Monaco, Kenneth Kaunda, Atiku Abubakar, Joyce Banda and Prince Charles.
A man of many attributes, Nelson Mandela was also a budding artist. He produced a number of sketches including illustrations of Robben Island, where he was imprisoned for so many years. Further details about his art are available at www.nelsonmandelaart.com
Some have questioned why there has been such wide coverage of the Mandela story. Others have expressed irritation at the extensive media coverage of his death. For them the question seems to be why all the fuss about this man?
Today, it is difficult to imagine a situation where people of one race would be forbidden from entering certain parts of their own country. It is not easy to understand how and why black people in South Africa would have been required to show a pass, similar to a passport, before being allowed to enter certain provinces and cities.
It seems inconceivable that young, black, South African children would have been prevented from attending certain schools or that they would be forced to remain in slums while their mothers travelled to cities to work as nannies and domestic servants for the ruling class. It would often be the case that children would not see their mothers for weeks. In some instances fathers would be forced to remain for many days, working in mines without being able to visit their families. Again, depriving children of their parents for long periods of time.
That was South Africa during the apartheid years.
Not only was apartheid fundamentally unjust, it also ruined many families and had a devastating effect on many who lived during that period. Added to this were the methods used by the apartheid regimes to enforce the system – with brutality, torture and killings.
Thus apartheid South Africa was what Mandela and other freedom fighters like Steve Biko, Oliver Thambo and Walter Sisulu tirelessly fought against. Their successful campaign for freedom was strengthened and supported by a host of foreign individuals and nations, within Africa as well as from other parts of the world.
What has made Nelson Mandela unique is the fact that after many years of hatred, opposition and fighting, he chose to forgive his adversaries. Mandela resolved not to dwell on the wrongs that were done to him. His was a message of peace, reconciliation and love. The love that is central to Madiba’s message is a universal love for all human beings. The love that is shown to the next person irrespective of race, gender, nationality or religion – irrespective of whatever differences that might exist.
Indeed Bill Clinton recently said of Mandela, “When he could have had the politics of resentment he had the politics of inclusion.”
Nelson Mandela was most definitely not a saint. Accounts by those who knew him personally are that he would be the first to admonish against sanctifying him or attributing super-human qualities to his character.
Nelson Mandela was just a man. His ideals, however, though simple, are not quite that easy to truly live by. The fact that he earnestly tried to practise what he preached has earned him the admiration and affection of many across the world.
Therefore, Mandela’s life, and his passing, are indeed relevant to us all – it is not just a South African or an African affair. His character touches humanity.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the world and the media chose to honour him in such a robust way.
Feyi is currently studying on the MA Multimedia Journalism at MMU and writes on a range of topics including the arts. She blogs at Zaynnah Magazine and you can follow her on Twitter @zaynnah1