Nelson Mandela still relevant in this world

| | in Oped

Be it in South Africa or the US, the scourge of racism continues to divide and plague contemporary society

A rebel, a prisoner for 27 years, a Nobel Peace prize winner, a Bharat Ratna and a world renowned stateman — these momentous titles aren’t enough to describe the legend of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. More than a year-and-a-half after his death, Mandela still remains the face of anti-apartheid and anti-racism campaigns across the world.

Though Mandela is often compared with other great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior, his approach widely differed from these two leaders. While Gandhi gave as much importance to the manner in which freedom was to be achieved, for young Mandela, it was about uprooting apartheid, by any means. Although Mandela professed Gandhian ways in the beginning to fight racism in his country, initial failures forced him to re-think and turn towards armed protests. “For me, non-violence was not a moral principle but a strategy,” he said.

Post his teen years, Mandela hardly spent any time with his family. An end to apartheid was his sole aim and the African National Congress was his new home. In a bid to go on the offensive against the British, in 1955, he asked China for weapons to support his ANC’s struggle against apartheid. China refused. Once the British got to know of his guerrilla war plans, he remained on the most wanted list of the authorities till he was caught in 1956.

His three hour long I am prepared to die speech, delivered just before he was sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to initiate a guerrilla war, remains one of the greatest speeches in world history. The last paragraph of this historical speech is written on South Africa’s constitutional court’s wall. Mandela was freed after 27 years in prison, following an international campaign seeking his release.

As the world prepares to celebrate the sixth Mandela Day on July 18, it is worth contemplating if the world needs his teachings today more than ever. Let’s take the case of Mandela’s own country, South Africa. In 1998, South Africa had to introduce a Black African quota system in the national cricket team. According to this system, the team had to include at least four players of colour each time they took the field. Although the rule was lifted in 2008, a similar quota rule was enforced in domestic cricket in 2013.

Incidences of racial discrimination are still common in South Africa, two decades after the country elected Mandela as its first ever Black President. According to the country’s Human Rights Commission, universities and schools witness blatant racism on a daily basis. Many are still fighting for the rights of Blacks in South Africa, but the campaign seems to be losing steam since Mandela passed away in December 2013.

The problem isn’t confined to South Africa. A recent spurt racial violence in the US is evidence enough that the racial divide is alive in many parts of the world. Such was the state of affairs in the US that President Barack Obama was forced to use the word ‘nigger’ in an interview — a word that is taboo in the US and one that hasn’t been spoken by any US President for many decades.

With the world’s most powerful man compelled to call his own country “racist”, Mandela’s teachings remain relevant even today. “When you’re dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you have to have vigilance, but you have to recognise that it’s going to take some time, and you just have to be steady. This isn’t going to be solved overnight. This is something that is deeply rooted in our society, it’s deeply rooted in our history…”, said Mr Obama.

Among Mandela’s other notable contributions to the world was The Elders. Launched as an international NGO, it had well-known statesmen, human rights activists and peace activists as its members. Mandela wanted The Elders to use their “close to 1,000 years of experience” to solve international conflicts.

Mandela Day calls for the people to realise the positive impact that they can have on their fellow beings. Several events will celebrate the values that Mandela held so dear — democracy, respect and freedom. While the world is looking to development to solve the problem, may be the wiser thing would be to look back at the lives of great leaders such as Mandela and absorb their lessons.

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