Nelson Mandela: The South African Mahatma

Mahatma Gandhi was nominated more than once for the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. He was never conferred with this honour. Some of his followers or the apostles, nevertheless, received the same. Rolihlahla Dalibhunga or Nelson Mandela, who languished and underwent humiliation in a white-controlled jail for twenty seven long years was one such public figure of repute.

Although, he could achieve his objective of getting his country freed from the clutches of an outright pro-apartheid regime during his lifetime, he could not enjoy the political power for the reasons of age. A reign of more than five years, perhaps could have legitimately assisted him in actualising many of his unfulfilled pro-people dreams and aspirations.

On the contrary, for no fault of his, he had to suffer immensely on personal front. All the tragedies were tolerated with such a dignity that they hardly impacted his largely transparent public life. On being reminded of his sacrifices, he would retort “I am not the only one to do so. Others too have done that.” Mandela, therefore, deserves to be admired and respected for his vision, tolerance, intellect and integrity.

Several heads of states, public figures, activists, artists and sportspersons would come out with words of praise in his honour now that he has breathed his last in the dying moments of December 05, 2013 but how many of them actually comprehended the basic tenets of passive resistance he championed, will be anybody’s guess. Our mystical, yet materialistic world has moved like this. It may continue to progress in this manner in the days to come.

With the advent of Drone, upgraded cellphones, automobiles, communication devices and automatic weapons, experiments with untruth are flourishing in a mathematical progression. No one even on tasting setbacks appears interested in drawing a line between the need and greed. Commodification of the humankind, vociferously opposed to by Gandhi, Marx, and Mandela goes on unabated in some form or the other.

Fondly called Madiba by his countrymen, the 95-year-old statesman, who began his career as a security guard, effectively anchored a non-violent tirade without having met Mahatma Gandhi even once. In his autobiography ‘Long Walk To Freedom’, he, however, acknowledged as to how the passive resistance movement led by two Gandhian followers against the Asiatic Land Tenure Act in South Africa had influenced him. In addition, choice of India for his first ever foreign visit on being released from the prison had its own weightage and significance. All said and done, South Africa may continue to be relevant for India even in the post-Mandela era.

India, on its part had always given a loud message to the world by voicing its unequivocal opposition to the racial regime in South Africa at fora, such as, UNO,NAM and CHOGM. Same was logically followed by conferring the Bharat Ratna on Mandela. Incidentally, this was only the second time that the highest Indian civilian honour was being bestowed on a foreign dignitary. Earlier another Gandhian, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan was chosen for his non-violent initiatives in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Though his credentials as a non-violent crusader cannot and should not be doubted, it is also a fact and not a figment of imagination that after African National Congress was banned in 1960, Mandela became impatient and desperate to the extent that he had to resort to an armed struggle against the state. This would not have found favours in the Gandhian era. The cancellation of Non-cooperation Movement by Mahatma Gandhi in 1919, in the wake of violence in Chauri Chaura in UP is an effective case in point. Another digression, perhaps, was Mandela’s consent to share the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with the last South African President of the notorious apartheid era. How could a reward in recognition of a mass mobilisation of the sufferers be shared with the very perpetrators of the crime?

His deteriorating physical health, presumably owing to bouts of sorrow and solitude in a tiny cell of 5x 6 feet at the Robben Island impelled him to enter the wedlock thrice: 1944, 1958 and in 1998. In between two divorces took place. Having lost three children and a great grand daughter, he is now survived by three daughters, seventeen grandchildren and fourteen great grandchildren.

While we mourn his irreparable loss, shall we hope and pray that his close associates and followers will continue to sustain the struggle for justice, human rights and a society free from the racial discrimination?

May South Africa progress at a rapid pace with or without the aegis of BRICS as it has to catch up fast the lost opportunities and decades.

By Alok K Shrivastava

(The writer is a serving IAS officer. Views expressed are his personal.)

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