Celebrating 95 years: Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela!

With his forename meaning troublemaker, no one knew he would become a legend untold in the history of Africa.

Adeela Naureen July 18, 2013
"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." – Nelson Mandela.

Having lived in Zimbabwe as part of larger Southern African community for more than a year or so, I have found that you cannot remain untouched by the magic of Madiba. Probably one of the most influential icons of African history and a sparkling star of our times, Nelson Mandela is fighting the ultimate battle for his life today, physically. However, his legacy will remain as important a chapter of Africa till the end of times.

Messages of support hang on a pole outside the home of former South African President Nelson Mandela, in Houghton, Johannesburg June 28, 2013. REUTERS-Mujahid Safodien Messages of support hang on a pole outside the home of former South African President Nelson Mandela, in Houghton, Johannesburg June 28, 2013. REUTERS-Mujahid Safodien

July 18th becomes personally significant for being in proximity of South Africa, it appears that and the charisma of Mandela is painted on the beautiful skies of Southern Africa. 95 years ago, no one from the royal house of Xhosas knew that this baby born in a small village in the village of Mvezo in Umtatu of the Cape Province will become a legend untold in the history of Africa. Even his forename Rolihlahla, meaning ‘troublemaker’ had something of an enigma about the colours of his personality, only history discovered it subsequently.

Nelson Mandela was a young man when he buried his gun in the garden of a house now owned by Al Neenstra. Photo: Reuters

South Africa and better part of Africa is resonating with prayers for his recovery, despite the fact that Madiba is on life support, millions of Madiba lovers and followers are hopeful. They are praying in churches, mosques, synagogues and temples across the world, especially in South Africa. Africans have their own way and style of offering prayers, even in sombre times and death, some of them will dance with music and call for the souls of their forefathers to heed to their prayers, others would observe long vigils at night time to observe silence and pray quietly in their hearts, the new youth is extensively using social media to express their love and attachment with Madiba.

Even President Obama’s recent visit to South Africa was dominated by the Madiba phenomenon. His stay in the Rainbow Nation included a visit to Robbon Islands, where Nelson Mandela spent years as a prisoner of the Apartheid regime of erstwhile, White South Africa.

Despite being a revolutionary and an embodiment of armed struggle for black South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s soft heart within created one of the major tectonic shifts in African history; liberation of black South Africa and creation of a Rainbow Nation through a policy of truth and reconciliation. If Madiba had not displayed statesmanship and magnanimity, South Africa could have easily been engulfed by a deadly civil war and bloody campaign of vendetta by blacks against minority whites.

Nelson Mandela from prison to presidential office, 1994. Photo: AFP

I have never met him in person, but have seen him so closely through the eye of television, social media and history books that Madiba has left a great mark on my thoughts, as a kind and sublime soul so nourishing to the down trodden in struggle for freedom and honour.

While closing my eyes and gazing through my imagination, I can see him asserting all the black people to support the South African rugby team Springboks (a symbol of hatred for black South Africans) in the 1995 Rugby World Cup - a gesture to assure that everyone in South Africa was part of the Rainbow Nation.

Mandela’s idea of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed under apartheid by both the government and the ANC became very unpopular with the people, however, its long-lasting effects could only be visualised by a statesman and visionary like Madiba. Mandela himself describes its catharsis effect as “the commission had helped us move away from the past to concentrate on the present and the future.” Mandela’s approach was built around four pillars, tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Today, South Africans are harvesting the fruits of this vision as the concept of a Rainbow Nation allowed all nations and ethnic groups to participate in the building of modern South Africa.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela jokes with youngsters as they celebrate his 89th birthday at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in Johannesburg 24 July 2007. Picture: AFP

Although, modern South Africa has not been able to create an even playing field for all communities and the economy remains dominated by whites, Madiba’s vision created a breathing space under the hanging sword of uncertainty where subsequent governments under Mbeki and Jacob Zuma could move on and bring requisite changes in the economic structure of the country for the benefit of the common man.

In my opinion, Madiba’s ability to hand the power over to the next generation and set an example of an outstanding leadership in Africa was statesmanship par excellence. Being the father of the nascent South African nation, Nelson Mandela could have clung to power indefinitely, and may be, accepted by the masses without a question. However he left the public office with grace and became an icon of leadership globally.

Despite his life of struggle and hardship, Madiba developed a great sense of humanity.

Despite his gruelling schedule and positive diagnosis for prostate cancer, former South African president Nelson Mandela found the time to visit creches and pre-schools to hand out gifts to young children in 2001. Picture: AFP

For instance, while he was serving his sentence at Robbon Island’s prison, he studied major world religions and systems including Islam, the African’s philosophy and many others to peep into the world of ideas. This helped him develop an ultimate and unconditional love for humanity. Additionally, this also helped him execute the concept of Truth and Reconciliation Commission that helped bridge the gap between blacks and whites and eventually save the Rainbow Nation from falling apart.

Man holding newspaper on the day Nelson Mandela was set free. Photo: AFP

Today, the Xhosa of the Thembu, Mandela of the Umkhonto we Sizwe and Madiba of South Africa is battling death, the entire Rainbow Nation is resonation with prayers and I can feel the rhythm of hymens across Africa. The world is yet not ready to say good bye to this great man who built a Rainbow Nation from scattered and disunited communities, who created love from utter hate and bitterness and left a legacy that the humanity and its Creator will be proud of.

A man prays for Mandela's recovery. Photo: AfFP

Happy Birthday Mandela and happy recovery! You will always be on our minds and in our hearts.

Read more by Adeela here
Adeela Naureen A freelance columnist for the Herald newspaper in Zimbabwe who is working on socioeconomic and political issues confronting South Asia and Southern Africa as well as Cost of the Long War in Afpak region.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


waqar khan | 10 years ago | Reply @Rashid: It is not matter of comparing both great leaders and their accomplishments,both had their share of a prolonged struggle in slightly different environment but for the same cause,to get their people liberated from the throngs of slavery and colonial rule.Nelson Mandela operated in a different situation and environment,he had to fight the last vestige of colonialism in the world and the stubborn Apartheid regime of erstwhile White South Africa,he came out with flying colors and not only liberated the indigenous people but also allowed the very colonists to remain part of the new arrangement in a Rainbow Nation concept.However; South African leaders following Mandela have not been able to match his leadership and statesmanship,no doubt the indigenous population is far behind the whites in economic development.Jinnah and Mandela are both statesmen par excellence and have there respective place in the history of freedom struggle for Asian and African countries.
C Mitchell | 10 years ago | Reply I just want to say God Bless. Nelson is one of the most fantastic people I have heard of. I wish there was a live forever pill. He would be one of the greatest people who could have the previledge of getting it.
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