Long Walk to Freedom comes to an End ..
(Tribute to Nelson Mandela by anti-apartheid activist Shaykh Sadullah Khan presented at a memorial on the day of Nelson Mandela’s burial on 15 December 2013)
On Thursday 5 December 2013, South Africans came to the grim realization that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was no more; that one who was an undeniable presence in the life of our nation had passed on, that someone whose very name was synonymous with South Africa had departed. It was a South Africa now without Mandela, faced with the challenge of turning the absence of his towering personality into the presence of his noble example.
Profound Sense of Loss
The fact that we all have to face the inevitable reality of death does not diminish the profound sense of loss we feel at his passing. He, more than anyone, came to embody our sense of common nationhood. In the liberation struggle, the name Mandela evoked memories of a protester, political activist, the world’s most famous prisoner who became president; among the greatest sons of the soil of Africa, symbol of the struggle, liberation hero, internationally inspirational, universally admired. Even today, the sound of the word “Mandela” induces a feeling of solidarity, conjures an image of dedication, arouses a sense of African revolutionary pride, prompts a desire to want to do something for others.
Thus, a nation mourns, a continent bids proud farewell and the world salutes Madiba.
While the legend may have moved on, Mandela’s spirit remains with us; his legacy does not end with his passing but forever will live in our hearts, minds and soul. We take solace from the fact that his was a life lived in the service of his fellow beings. His concern for the welfare of children, his desire to unite people through sport, his focus on environmental awareness, and his general concern for the totality of the human condition are all championing of the primary essence of our humanity. Mandela was a man of courage and integrity, a genuinely good human being, someone of whom we can truly say, he lived for a cause greater than himself.
There is an Arabic saying that "he who lives for himself, lives a small life, dies a small death and is soon forgotten, but he who lives a selfless life, lives a great life, dies a great death and is lovingly remembered." Mandela lead our country from a divided black and white nation to a united rainbow nation; from racist apartheid to ubuntu (acknowledging our common humanity); he lived a life that cannot be ignored and left a legacy that can never be forgotten.
More than Words
He leaves a proud legacy of striving for freedom and human rights, a legacy of tolerance and reconciliation. His words were indeed memorable ..
When threatened in the racist court with the death sentence in the famous Rivonia Trial he said his famous line .. “I have cherished the ideal of a 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.”
Remembering the struggle in other parts of the world, he said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
When told upon his release “Now you are free”: he responded, “Not yet, we are now free to be free”
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
So his words were indeed memorable and his oratory power well-known; yet, much of his most memorable expressions were revealed through wordless gestures, warm embraces, loving smiles, spontaneous dance and raised fist.
Life of Humility and Dignity
He lived with resolute conviction, had unswerving dignity, and a profound sense of purpose. His indomitable spirit sustained him through years of incarceration, his magnanimity allowed him to forgive his jailers, his life story is a beacon of hope for those whose situation may seem forlorn. He was the global trendsetter for redemption and grace. He was the personification of wisdom in the presence of comrades and adversaries, the embodiment of courage in the face of adversity; one who had the uncanny ability of defeating his foes without dishonoring them. It was perchance the fact that he led by humble example that makes him, in this cynical age, the only living global hero. His life, in many ways, symbolized most of what is exemplary in great human beings, he stirred our conscience in pursuit of dignity and human rights; he embodied a unique mixture of humility, clemency and integrity.
Apartheid was a racist, bigoted aberration; and many who were engaged in the struggle against apartheid wondered whether we would ever see the end of legislated apartheid in our life time. I was honoured to witness the freeing of the most famous political prisoner in history, and privileged to have both my children “born frees” in the period of Mandela’s presidency; and though they grew up in the US witnessing the election of the first African-American president in Barack Hussein Obama; the standing of Mandela out-shadows any comparison .. from “terrorist” to commander in chief, from prisoner to president; Mandela stands unique.
When imprisoned, he patiently persevered; when president, he led with dignity and statesmanship. Years of imprisonment did not embitter him, mega stardom in later years did no remove from him the noble qualities of modesty, magnanimity and compassion; nothing could ever erase from him the elegance of simplicity.
He more than most exemplified dignity, love and selflessness. He was revered, not feared; he engendered a sense of pride, not arrogance. It is thus hoped that he continues to serve as an inspiration for a new generation to mobilise against injustice and inequality.
Mandela; that village boy who ended up making the struggle for liberation of the nation his life, who made the standing up for justice his mission, made his jail cell a world-wide forum for human rights, who responded to the arrogance of the oppressor with unparalleled humility, returned the hatred of the racists with loving clemency, engaged the future by making peace with the past, championed the cause of children, made his captors his companions, made reconciliation his trademark, forgiveness his focus, united a divided nation and left a legacy of love and reconciliation. In modern history? Unique indeed!
Tears and Tributes
Tears and tributes have flowed from all over the world, farewell to Mandela, to Tata, to Madiba. Humanitarian, symbol of peace, a model of hope, father of the rainbow nation, iconic leader of our time, beacon of optimism to freedom fighters, symbol for human-rights movements across the world .. that is Mandela.
As world leaders leave the largest officially represented funeral in history, the African sun sets over the little village of Qunu where one of the greatest sons of Africa was born and now lies buried; and we reflect on the words of the universal poet Rumi as parting memory of Madiba; “cry not at our departure, rather smile and remember the fond memories we shared. Search not for our tomb in the graveyards of the world; rather search for us in the hearts of the people we have touched.”
Hamba Kahle, Madiba!
We bid farewell to the hero of our nation, pride of the continent and an icon to the world. He was such an integral part of our struggle that his story is an essential part of our history. His parting leaves a distinct void in the collective psyche of our people and indeed a deep sense of emptiness. As his remains are laid to rest, a part of us lies buried with him and much of him lives on in us.
Hamba kahle/farewell, Madiba!
As a long walk to freedom comes to an end, the struggle for justice and peace continues.
Shaykh Sadullah Khan is the Director of Impower Development International.