The 5th of December 2013 will be indelibly etched in the memory of many a generation to come for it is the day that ushered the passing of one Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. His death was not unexpected. After all, he was not only a man of very advanced age but he had also been battling ill health for quite some time.
Nonetheless, the world reacted with a concoction of emotions - sadness, celebration, confusion, reflection and even indifference! It is clear from all the outpouring of grief that 'Madiba', as he is affectionately known, was held in the highest regard by the majority of people the world over. We saw scenes of people reacting to news of his death and tributes poured in from pretty much every corner of the globe. Of course, there were the inevitable pockets of hardline detractors among some who ardently pointed out that he never quite renounced his 'terrorist' past and others who argued that he did not do enough to change circumstances for the poor majority during his brief spell as the first black president of South Africa. While not dismissing these opinions altogether, I hope it is not rude to consider them irrelevant for they are after all, just opinions and everyone is entitled to one. Indeed his death divided opinion but it would be cynical at the least to deny that the man represented something that resonated with many people on different levels, from the ordinary man on the street to film stars musicians, politicians and royalty. Even those who once spoke ill of him jostled to sing his praises - a great spectacle indeed!
There is an abundance of sharp discourse on the political life of Nelson Mandela elsewhere therefore I shall resist the folly of reciting yet another Mandela 101 lecture. Much has already been shared since his passing, perhaps even to the point of overkill but allow me to challenge those of us who genuinely revere him to uphold his ideals and strive to follow the example he set. His unwavering commitment to the struggle for freedom, a genuine desire to unify people despite their strong differences and his love for children are his most inspiring qualities to me. One hopes that those in positions of power today will evaluate their lives and be moved to adjust their moral compasses in an effort to unite the world. While I promise not to repeat the glowing testimonies and soaring rhetoric expressed in the many tributes and eulogies we have all read and heard, there is one recurring thread from most of what has been said that I feel is worth repeating a million times over. The man was humble - he made time to engage with the ordinary folks. Much as he was a traditional leader, elder statesman and global icon, stories abound of how Mr Mandela would always greet and chat with cooks, cleaners and gardeners etc - those men and women who are usually invisible not only to eminent persons but even at much lower levels in our workplaces, at schools and in our communities.
Heaven forbid that I dare deify the man (he'll probably be the first to chastise me for doing so) but I can't help drawing parallels with some traits as reflected by the Biblical Messiah - yes, Him of washing His disciples' feet, mingling with lepers and hanging out with harlots and crooks! That said, this overwhelmingly universal portrayal of a saintly pacifist threatens to overshadow Mandela's other equally admirable qualities as an astute and resolute man who was stubborn in his convictions - even to the point of putting his own life on the line. A perfect analysis of Mandela's dichotomous character has been eloquently put together by Benjamin Fogel in his article The Two Mandelas.
Anyway, here is what I am failing to say - should we disregard anything else there is to learn from the illustrious life of Nelson Mandela, may we, at least, always be reminded of how much he simply gave a damn!