FROM the nation newspaper-Nigeria
Crocodile tears on the grave of Mandela
Posted by: Jide Osuntokun
The death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013) has attracted a lot of emotions, comments and tributes from many current leaders and past leaders of several countries in the world. Some of these comments are genuine, others are insincere and amounts to crocodile tears. About 100 global political players, both current and those who have held positions of power in the world, including President Barrack Obama, current American President and three former Presidents- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W Bush, and the heir apparent to the British throne Prince Charles as well as our own President Goodluck Jonathan and David Cameron, John Major and Gordon Brown, current and former British Prime Ministers respectively attended the official funeral ceremony held at a big stadium in Soweto South Africa. This must have been a security nightmare for the South African authorities. Mandela who initially embraced the non-violent philosophy of Mochandas Ghandhi-Ji later abandoned non-violence and was largely responsible for forming the Umkhonto we Sizwe (the Spear of the Nation), which was the armed youthful wing of the African National Congress (ANC). The young revolutionaries in South Africa by the 1960s were already getting impatient with the conservative and non-violent approach to African liberation espoused by the ANC. Members of the Pan African Congress (PAC) were already critical of the non-violent campaign of the ANC. We can therefore say Nelson Mandela reluctantly took to armed struggle because as he argued nobody can kill a wild beast with bare hands.
In the history of the liberation of South Africa some attention should be paid to the PAC and Azanian People’s Congress’ roles as alternative platforms for the liberation of South Africa. A comparable situation is what happened in the US where the existence of militant youthful groups such as Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) led by Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown, as well as the Black Panther Movement of Huey Newton and Eldrige Cleaver, and the Black Muslims particularly the faction led by one of its charismatic leaders, Malcom X with their cry burn baby burn made Martin Luther King nonviolent campaign largely acceptable to the white folks. Even though the situation was not exactly the same, white folks saw Mandela as somebody they could ultimately do business with.
This does not diminish the achievements of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela but it is important to put the two global icons within their historical context. The two share many things in common especially their ability to forgive their oppressors. Martin Luther King’s tolerance is firmly rooted in Christian religion while Mandela’s ability to forgive is rooted in political reality. He wanted to build a non-racial majoritarian democracy in South Africa and he came to the conclusion that the only way to do this was by forgiving his racist oppressors who had built in South Africa a first world infrastructure and economy albeit on the backs of the blacks. If he had adopted the Mugabe approach of land expropriation, he would have destroyed his much loved country of South Africa for which he paid huge price of 27 years imprisonment. Since 1994 when he became president and now after having been succeeded by Thabo Mbeki and the current President Jacob Zuma, the vast majority of black South Africans have remained largely poor. Of course centuries of Black marginalization cannot be removed within a few years but young black South Africans are not prepared to wait indefinitely for the fruit of majority rule. This is the challenge facing South Africa today. And some of the militant youths have been known to issue militant statements about the conniving and apologetic leadership of the ANC who are only ready to tinker with the white economic structure of South Africa without radically changing it. This is why incredibly as it may sound, Robert Mugabe is perhaps the most popular political figure in Southern Africa today. This also accounts for the tumultuous ovation he attracted when he entered the stadium during the funeral mass for Mandela.
I had the opportunity to meet Mandela in May 1990, when he came to Nigeria, and the University of Lagos conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate degree after leaving prison and before becoming president of South Africa. Professor Nurudeen Alao who was Vice Chancellor asked me and Dr. Tunji Dare to prepare a citation for the great man. We independently wrote this and after comparing notes, Dare said my citation captured totally the essence of the man, and he subsequently published his own draft, I believe in The Guardian. I remember that one of the things the great man asked us was that he wanted to learn how Nigeria has been able to create a forum like the House of Chiefs in the old regions for traditional leaders to participate in governance so that he could do the same in South Africa. I do not know what became of his interest in this regard.
After Mandela’s death, I have been thoroughly amused by the comments of our leaders. Some of these leaders have hailed him as a great man, a great African icon and a great world leader that is worthy of emulation. Yet some of these so-called African leaders held power for years without leaving any remarkable or worthwhile imprint on the society. It is surprising that those who overstayed their welcome in office are now acclaiming Mandela as their friend and as someone from whom they learnt something. One only hopes that our current leaders and those after them will learn from this great man’s example, that it is not the amount of money that one has that matters, but that it is the enduring and unforgettable legacies that one leaves behind that really matter.
The former American President George W Bush also went to South Africa to pay his last tribute to Mandela; I believe his sincerity. But we should not forget that his Vice President Dick Cheney regarded Mandela as a terrorist. And according to General Colin Powel, a former American Secretary of State and his successor Condoleezza Rice both of whom are blacks claimed that they were hugely embarrassed to find Mandela’s name on America’s terrorist list. It is surprising that the Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and the Chinese President Xi Jinping were conspicuously absent in South Africa to pay their last respects to Mandela; they will not be missed of course. And the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu found a lame reason about security and the cost of the trip not to go to South Africa. Of course, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was there because Mandela was a supporter of the Palestinian cause and liberation. Let it be remembered that Israel and the United States under President Ronald Reagan assisted South Africa to acquire nuclear weapons in the late 1970s.
President Jonathan in some kind of homily during a funeral service for Mandela said that Nigeria is not likely to have a man of Mandela’s stature. I disagree and I say General Yakubu Gowon remains the greatest Head of State of Nigeria with high moral stature on a comparable level with Mandela. Gowon’s case is that of a prophet that is with no honour in his own country. Here was a man who governed this country for nine years and ended up not having a single house or billions of naira, and oil blocs in his name but was responsible for most of the enduring physical infrastructure in the country. Here is a war leader who fought a civil war and ended it without show trials and executions of those on the other side of the conflict. Gowon represents our own Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela rolled into one. Since leaving office, he went back to the university and earned himself a doctorate degree in Political Science and has never soiled his hands with filthy lucre. He has used his moral currency and goodwill to attract funds for good cause such as guinea-worm eradication and has spent along with others, years in praying for the peace of Nigeria. When he was in power, Gowon was a pan-Africanist and extended the reach of Nigeria’s foreign policy to the black Diaspora in the Caribbean. History will be fair to Gowon, he may not have had the press and publicity and international acclaim that Mandela has but Gowon among our leaders certainly made a difference. And he deserves to be celebrated now and in the future.