Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wreaths of Paradox


A kaleidoscopic interplay of some happenings and historical events on the life and times of Nelson Mandela


* Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born July 18, 1918, towards the end of World War I, into a royal family. Paradoxically he chose rebellion and embraced revolution later in life on the wings of the African National Congress, ANC, to wage war against apartheid and its patrons.

* His name ROLIHLAHLA literally means, “pulling the branch of a tree.” His other less known name but of much traditional importance is his circumcision name, DALIBUNGA, which means father of the BUNGA traditional ruling body of the Transkei, the rural area in Eastern Cape where he was born. MADIBA is more of a term of reverence than a name per se. It is a clan or communal name used for older people, especially men deemed fit to be so honoured. Thus Mandela’s ancestral MADIBA name is also a preference for Nelson which is seen more as a colonial legacy hung on his neck by a teacher who could not actually pronounce his jaw-breaking but more meaningful ROLIHLAHLA.

* His father expected him to grow up in the village and tend the cattle. He was a troublesome and restless youth often indulged in traditional stick fighting. He eventually left Qunu to look for greener pasture on the other side of the fence in the city and thus began his long walk to political relevance in the annals of South African history.

Ironically the man who left prison in 1990 apparently to come and bury what remained of APARTHEID chose to be buried in his ancestral homeland of Qunu among his fellow blacks! Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, architect of apartheid, would be happy in his exclusive white graveyard.  

The day the world gathered in Johannesburg to pay tributes to the memory of Mandela was a day full of drama, irony and paradox. The main backers of the apartheid regime, for example, Britain and the United States, US, with their huge investments in the white dominated territory, took the centre, waxing in eloquence and praise singing Mandela.

* Up till five years ago, 2008, the person they were eulogising was still legally on a US terror watch list. Before then Mandela and some ANC leaders, including the foreign affairs minister, could only enter the US with a special waiver from the secretary of state because the ANC had been designated a terrorist organisation by South Africa’s former apartheid government.

* Amidst tributes, eulogies and elegies from fellow world leaders, Jacob Zuma’s voice was hardly heard. The political chief mourner hit a wall of jeers and boos any time his name was mentioned over the public loudspeaker. While the sporting nations were turning the traditional one minute silence in honour of the dead to one minute of seemingly unstoppable applause for Mandela, the angry crowd inside the First National Bank, FNB, Stadium were giving the referee’s substitution signal for change. Has Zuma hit the rock in his race for political relevance in post-Mandela South Africa? What could have made South Africans clap for FW de Klerk, former apartheid warlord, and jeer at an incumbent black president?

* But Zuma is a fighter and fighters are no quitters. Like Mandela, he is likely to fight on. It took his mentor (Mandela) years before he could get his law degree. He enrolled for the course in 1939 but he serially, by design or default, failed his law examinations until 50 years after (1989) and that was while he was in prison. Hitherto he was able to practice law in the 1950s with his friend, Oliver Tambo, with his two-year diploma which he got after his first degree.

* Winnie Mandela had a standing ovation when she was called to the stage. To most ANC supporters, she is the Mother of the Nation. She fought with both body and soul to sustain the momentum of the struggle in the townships while her husband was in jail and the men were in the trenches.

* The artifacts of the Nelson and Winnie Mandela Museum in their former home on Vilakazi Ngakane Corner in Orlando West, Soweto, attest to the relevance and popularity of Winnie. Mandela himself once jokingly remarked how famous Winnie had become in his absence that he was forced, on his release from prison, to be introducing himself as Nelson, the husband of Winnie Mandela, to world leaders and friends!

* President Goodluck Jonathan was equally hailed by the appreciative crowd not because of him per se but because of Nigeria’s unflinching support for liberation struggles throughout Africa. ANC was the biggest beneficiary of the nation’s gesture right from the days of Tafawa Balewa to Murtala/Obasanjo military regime. At the UNO, Nigeria was at the forefront of the diplomatic onslaught against apartheid. It was the Sani Abacha regime that almost made nonsense of the nation’s contributions in this regard when it confronted the big man, MADIBA, over the latter’s humanitarian intervention over the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, the Ogoni environmental activist.

Rain beat a tattoo rhythm on mourners who came to the FNB stadium as early as 3am for the 11am event. They wore rain boots, raincoats and shared umbrellas for further protection against the biting cold. Asked why they had to expose themselves to such chilly weather, they were quick to quip back: “What is one day in rain compared with 27 years in jail?” It was a response that captured the true essence of the man called MADIBA. December 10 was payback day, a somewhat surreal global farewell for an individual once labelled a terrorist by the Western world.

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