Mandela: A lesson in political greatness

December 11, 2013 by Anthony Akinola





By virtue of their exalted positions, political leaders are invariably famous!  We see their faces on television and in newspapers and we also listen to their voices on radio.  The notorious ones among them intimidate us with their posters or statues, palaces and the exclusive streets they name after themselves.  They would rather celebrate their own lives than be patient with history!

However, these fellows in positions of power are reduced to ordinariness as soon as they are relieved of political power.  The most mischievous of them (the Samuel Does, the Nicolae Ceausescus, the Saddam Husseins and the Muammar Gaddafis) get consumed by the anger of the oppressed, begging in vain for their lives to be spared!

Fame or notoriety is transient, while greatness endures. Political greatness is about doing deeds whose consequences endure in history.  Great political leaders do not come in rapid succession; they come once in a while.

The magnitude of political greatness is determined by the magnitude of crises or challenges a political leader is confronted with. It is not by choice that the political leaders whose names ring through history and in our subconscious memories have been those who were great nation builders, or great managers of wars, or great heralds of economic prosperity.  The great nations of the world have their Abraham Lincolns, Winston Churchills, Mao Tse-tungs, Mahatma Gandhis and Otto von Bismarks, to mention just a few.  Even in death, great political leaders inspire generations of would-be leaders.

The Black world, in the modern era, has donated two great names to the world of political  mythology.  Both Martin Luther King Jnr and Nelson Mandela were products of similar as well as contrasting historical circumstances.  They were members of multi-racial societies in which their own peoples were at the receiving end of injustice and degradation.  The majority white group meted out injustice to the minority black in one instance, while the minority white also meted out injustice to the majority black in another.  Both King Jnr and Mandela were historical characters in the crusade to bring sanity to what was a hopeless situation.

They were men of exceptional courage, intelligence, eloquence, vision and character.  King Jnr paid the ultimate price in his crusade for racial equality and justice, while Mandela had his freedom curtailed in an incredible 27 years of imprisonment.  Today, we celebrate the fact that both men and their apostles have been vindicated.

The world mourns Mandela who died on Thursday, December 5, at the ripe old age of 95.  His death has captured the imagination of the entire world.  Of course, the role he played in ending the obnoxious apartheid system in South Africa is monumental; what, however, the rest of the world is celebrating today is the exceptional character of one individual. One doubts if he would have been that revered if he were vengeful, or had exhibited political greed by wanting to die in office.  Neither was he obsessed with personal wealth and the perquisites that appeal to ordinary human beings.  In suffering and forgiving his tormentors, Mandela, according to Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun, is the nearest we have to Jesus Christ in Christian mythology.

It is noteworthy that President Goodluck Jonathan declared three days of mourning in memory of Africa’s most illustrious son.  This gesture is not enough.  What can we learn from Mandela in terms of personal contentment and spirit of reconciliation?  What can Jonathan himself learn from this global icon as he ponders his own political future amidst fierce disagreements and possible chaos?  When one’s political right  conflicts with the national interest, which one should prevail over the other?

  For our nation, one urges that we reflect on the struggles of our racial compatriots in the United States of America and South Africa.  They had more vicious experiences to contend with  than many of us could imagine.  With purposeful leadership, we should prevail and ours be counted among the most important nations of the world.  Great leaders like Mandela and King Jnr re-write history because their dreams transcend big mansions and private jets!  Great leaders live their lives for the sake of others.

– Akinola wrote in from Oxford, United Kingdom.


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