“Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” South African President Jacob Zuma said. “What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves”.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, former president and anti-apartheid revolutionary was pronounced dead tonight, 05 December 2013. He battled health issues in recent years including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalisations.
A militant freedom fighter, to a prisoner, to a unifying figure, to an elder statesman, Nelson Mandela was a forgiving man who sought reconciliation and not vengeance. From “Rolihlahla”, a Xhosa term colloquially meaning “troublemaker“ to “Madiba”, a saviour who sought to resolve conflict left over from the past rather than inflict the same wounds on the former ruling minority.
During the Treason Trial in which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for life, many Muslims including Ahmed Kathrada, Ismail Meer, Yusuf Dadoo. Kathrada was one of the famous Rivonia trialists, and was a long-serving political prisoner on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Maximum Prison. At the age of 34, in 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island where he spent the next 18 years with Mandela and others. Speaking at the Oxford Centre for Islamic studies on “Renewal and Renaissance – Towards a New World Order”, he said, “I may add that Robben Island’s first political prisoner, and one of the founding fathers of Islam in South Africa, was one of several exiled leaders of resistance to colonial rule in South-East Asia”.
“South Africa’s vibrant Islamic heritage is a valued and respected part of our nation. It is contributing to the forging of a new South African identity. Democratic South Africa, unlike its predecessor, accords Islam equal constitutional status with all other religions. Muslim marriages are now recognised”. [11 July 1997: Lecture by President Nelson Mandela at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies]
Hence Islam and Muslims were more than tolerated by Mandela, they were familiar. A familiarity that has allowed Muslims freedom of religion in this country for many years now.
The former president was not shy of showing sympathy for the Palestinian cause. A stance that was much criticised by several Jewish organisations in and out of South Africa.
11 February 1990 watching Mandela leaving Victor Verster holding Winnie’s hand and the 1995 Rugby World cup where Mandela sported a Springbok shirt with Francois Pienaar’s own number 6 on the back are memories of a unified South Africa with endless possibilities for non-Muslim and Muslim alike, black and white. Not that our possibilities of maintaining true democracy and reconciliation end today, South Africa’s struggle continues as do many nations the world over.
In 1999 Mandela stepped down after one term as President and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Two years later he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
In June 2004, aged 85 and amid failing health, Mandela announced that he was “retiring from retirement” and retreating from public life, remarking “Don’t call me, I will call you”.
From March of this year Mandela has been in and out of hospital. He spent his 95th birthday in hospital this year with deteriorating health.
There are many words of wisdom that our modest Tata Mandela left us with. My favourite being, when some one referred to him as a saint he answered, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”.
Our condolences go out to the family of this global icon- Tata Nelson Mandela.
Big shoes to fill for those in power. South Africans can only hope and pray to have leaders who embody his promise of dignity, compassion and forgiveness.
“When the Prophet Muhammad sent his oppressed followers to the African Christian King Negus of Abyssinia for safety, and they received his protection, was that not an example of tolerance and co-operation to be emulated today? Is that not a profound pointer to the role that religion can play, and the spiritual leadership it can provide, in bringing about the social renewal on our continent and in the world?”.
Mandela could teach many of us a lesson on tolerance. His words were not just mere words but one of experience, backed with sincerity and compassion for all. Thats what makes him the global icon of today.