Mandela: The triumph of good over evil
R. Rose
December 10, 2013
Mandela: The triumph of good over evil

The world has never witnessed such an outpouring of grief and joy, such a mixture of sorrow and celebration as is being acted out today in the South African township of Soweto, near the city of Johannesburg, as the special memorial service for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela takes place. A vast ocean of mourners and celebrants of all walks of life are being joined by countless millions worldwide for this extraordinary occasion.{{more}}

Who would have dared to countenance this a mere half a century ago when a young South African lawyer became, along with colleagues of his, another of the mounting number of young South African blacks to be swallowed up by the criminal system of apartheid, hounded, persecuted, and brought to trial for the simple crime of daring to fight for that most basic of human rights – freedom.

Mandela, Walter Sisulu and the heroic leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), only barely missed the fate of so many others before them – a death sentence, but were condemned to rot, literally, in the hell-hole that was the Robben Island prison of the day. Or at least that is what his jailors and the enemies of freedom believed.

Today, that hewer of the limestone rock of Robben Island, that so-called convicted “terrorist” of the African liberation struggle, is being commemorated as perhaps no one ever has had the honour, in the entire history of human civilization. The man on whom western leaders turned their back, neglected and isolated, whose militant calls for “Uhuru”, were met with deafening silence, is being honoured by Presidents, Heads of State and Prime Ministers of some of the most powerful countries on earth.

All over the world, there is no name as repeated as that of the ANC colossus, no cause as celebrated as that of Nelson Mandela, and, by extension, the freedom of the African people of that mighty continent. Besides those with the special privilege to be physically present in South Africa during this extraordinary week, hundreds of millions more will be glued to television sets, radios and other communication instruments, all paying their tribute to the late icon. Blacks, whites, brown and yellow; Christians, Muslims and Buddhists; atheists and agnostics; democrats, fundamentalists and communists; the memory of the achievements of this outstanding standard-bearer of human decency brings them all together.

This is perhaps the most vivid demonstration of the triumph of good over evil, since the resurrection itself. Mandela’s life represents the power of conviction, of steadfastness, of absolute courage, of the belief in the inevitable triumph of the human spirit. It is well to pause a bit and reflect that had that powerful tide of human solidarity not swept away apartheid, he would most certainly have been already dead, for it is hard to imagine surviving a half of a century of the torture which was the then Robben Island.

How could those who professed “western values” of freedom and democracy been so deaf, blind and morally irresponsible in the face of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the racist apartheid state? How could they have resisted lifting a finger or raising an eyebrow while the cries of the oppressed of southern Africa rang out right up to the skies? How could they justify depriving the African people of the very rights and freedoms for which they themselves were prepared to die on the battlefields of Flanders or the beaches of Dunkirk?

It took the unique qualities of leadership of the Mandela generation, the absolute faith in the power of the people and the righteousness of their cause to bring about victory in South Africa and to result in the legendary journey from prisoner to president that “Madiba” traversed.

As we celebrate the life and times of this titan, it would be well to adapt a call from another 20th century icon, Fidel Castro of Cuba, who, in recalling the memory of his fallen comrade Ernesto “Che” Guevara, said that he would like generations of young Cubans to “be like Che”.

If only we could be as consistently revolutionary like Mandela, as courageous as he was, as humble as he lived his life, as loyal to our families, countries and causes as he was, if only we could display the gratitude that he did in refusing pressure to renege on those revolutionaries who stood by his cause when others turned their heads, if we could display that sense of forgiveness that he showed towards those who persecuted him, if only we would know when to move on as he did after his single term of office, then Mandela’s life and works would have even more lasting value.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.