Mandela had died. He is now in the Hands of Allaah who best knows the hidden and apparent facets of every soul. Nevertheless, the man has been, and will be remembered, as a great man!
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died on December 5 2013 at the age of 95. He was considered the “Father of the [South African] Nation”. As he made the announcement of the death of Mandela, President Jacob Zumasaid: “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father… Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world.”
The leaders of this world from completely contradictory systems have paid tribute to Mandela. The man has managed one last gift to the world, uniting under the same thoughts leaders like President Barack Obama, Chinese PresidentXi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Queen Elisabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Former South African President F.W. de Klerk, Iranian President Hassan Rohani, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and many others.
This is the first gift Mandela gave the world … postmortem!
Mandela… an Icon of Human Freedom and Justice!
Mandela spent a life for the ideals he held. In 1944, at the age of 25, he was a student of Law when he joined the African National Congress (ANC), to become later its outspoken leader. The movement which was initially non-violent, became increasingly violent in the early 1960s in reaction to the brutal Apartheid regime’s extreme violence towards the ANC and the black South-African people who dared stand against the regime. Mandela, the leader of the armed wing of the ANC, was arrested in July 1963 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964;he was jailed on Robben Island to crush stones all day long. However, this did neither crush his will and determination, nor that of the black people in South Africawho slowly started believing that,united,they could change the fate of their country.
The political fight went on for the ANC and the South African people culminating in the Soweto uprising of 16June 1976, when thousands of black South African protested in the streets of the city rejecting the imposing of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools. The demonstrations were brutally repressed leading to hundreds of deaths, the first of whom was 13-year old student Hector Pieterson.
Slowly, the whole world joined in banning South Africa from international bodies because of its inhumane,racist regime. Thus, due to the struggle and steadfastness of a people, and the backing and solidarity of the international community, President de Klerk of South Africa was courageous after he saw that there was no alternative to a completely democratic system in the country. This eventually led to negotiations with and the release of Nelson Mandela, the organisation of the first free elections, and the election of Mandela as the first president of the democratic regime in South Africa.
Mandela was rewarded in his lifetime, being freed after 27 years of harsh imprisonment, seeing the black people in his country free, and participating in the first free elections in the country that passed power to the ANC. Most of all, he was able as first president of Free South Africa to unite all the people in the country, avoiding its implosion and slowly working on its stability. Today, South Africa is a stable and prosperous country. This does not mean it has overcome all the problems it faces; but its people, black and white, Christians and Muslims (and people of other religions), all feel a strong sense of belonging to the country and happy with the mosaic which is meant to give it a source of further strength, rather than division.
In his greatness as a leader, Mandela stepped down in 1999 at the end of his first term in office as president and refused to run for re-election, though he would have been very easily re-elected. He was great in realising that he was the man of the transition, since, internally, the black people in South Africa esteemed him much more than any other ANC leader and, at the international level, he would get a lot of backing for the burgeoning democratic system he was helping put in place. As such, one wonders whether South Africa would have survived the transition had Mandela not been its first president. On the other hand, he was such a soft, humble human, that he was also great in giving a shining lesson to all the despots who want to stick to power against the will of their people. He stepped down after only one term in office, once he realised that South Africa would be able to carry on, without him, towards the shores of safety and prosperity. He gave a chance to new blood at the head of the state!
After being “freed” from the presidency of the country, he tirelessly contributed to sorting out various world problems. He worked towards helping the Palestinians get their independent state (though this has not happened yet). He was forceful in his defence of the Palestinians’ right to an independent state, outspoken against the blockade on the Gaza strip by the Zionist state, and a very strong critic of the attack of the Zionist state’s army on the humanitarian flotilla that was heading towards the Gaza strip shores.Mandela was against the war on Iraq and a critic of the policies of George W. Bush. He was a negotiator for peace in Burundi which led to a peace treaty to be signed in the summer of 2000. He also led various activities to fight poverty and diseases.
Mandela… a Man to Remember!
Algerians will surely be among the first to remember Nelson Mandela who came to independent Algeria as early as 1963 (before his imprisonment), a country that showed the way to various liberation movements and leaders, including the ANC and its leader. He will also be remembered by Arabs and Muslims for his stance against international oppression. In South Africa Ganief Hendricks, president of the AlJama-ah Muslim political party said in a statement issued after the news of the death of Mandela: “The greatest gift one can give to a human being is freedom and that is what Mandela did for all South Africans.” NihadAwad, the National Executive Director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) said: “Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela served as an example of strength in adversity to all those fighting for freedom and justice… His legacy of uncompromising perseverance in the face of bigotry and injustice will live on for generations to come.”
Mandela was to be greater than his own country. He was a leader who believed in the ideals of justice and freedom. This is why the Palestinians, for example, will not forget the man who long stood for their cause nor his memorable statement:“The South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free. » We should mention in passing that the Zionist state had very strong ties with and support to the Apartheid regime in South Africa! So, he and late Arafat were brothers in the struggle against the two most oppressive and racist regimes of the 20th century.
The international community has acknowledged his struggle and sacrifices which earned himthe Noble Peace Prize in 1993, a prize he shared with F.W. de Klerk. He also received various awards including the Nehru Peace Prize (India, 1980), Gaddafi’s Human Rights Award (Libya, 1989), the Bharat Ratna prize (second foreigner to receive the highest distinction in India, 1990), Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace prize (shared with F.W. de Klerk in 1991), Atatürk Peace Award (Turkey 1999, prize he had refused in 1992), Honorary Doctorate of the University of Waseda (Japan, 1995), the great collar of the Order of Infant Dom Henry (Portugal, 1996), first living person to have been made honorary citizen of Canada (2001), Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush and member of the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II (2002), Global Conscience Clubaward (Budapest, 2004), Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience (2006), etc. At some point, Mandela received so many awards that he decided not to accept any more.
One Last Word
A Muslim should find no discomfort acknowledging the exemplification by any other human of values he/she shares. History is a source of inspiration to the believers as Allaah directs us time and again in the Qur’an to learn from other the history of other nations.
Mandela was and remains quite inspiring to all justice and freedom lovers. Is he not the one who said: « I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die »? In spite of this, I did not feel at ease that Algeria decreed 8 days of mourning (which may be explained or not by international commitments and ideals) while not eve an hour of mourning was decreed in remembrance of another great… but Algerian this time: Professor AboulQasimSaadalah(who left us on 14/12/2013, 9 days after Mandela!).
Ahmed Guessoum is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Science and Technology HouariBoumediene (USTHB) in Algiers. (www.usthb.dz