The Daily News (Harare)

5 August 2003

South Africa: Mandela is an Embarrassment to Africa's Dictators

opinion

WHEN former United States president Bill Clinton left the White House, he was at one time spotted in a supermarket parking lot in a small New York town. He was obviously mobbed by well-wishers.

One of them simply pumped Clinton's hand and thanked him for his services during the previous eight years as president. Clinton submissively retorted: "It was an honour to serve you."

The modesty struck me. The sincerity. The humility. Genuine leaders are made of this.

Sadly, on my home continent, I find no leader who can surpass that. In all honesty, I can't see the president of my country stooping so low as to say such a demeaning thing to a voter, a voter who may not even hear him after his eardrums had been busted by pro-president thugs during the preceding presidential campaign.

Dictators and democrats around the world don't know what to do about a man called Nelson Mandela - you might have heard of him. Sociologists, commentators and political analysts have all tried to explain the man and they always fall short.

They even try, but fail, to exaggerate what the man is. He seeks no publicity, but the Press, both local and international, will not leave him alone. The people and the Press fail to understand how the man is what he is.

But I have noticed though that when dealing with Mandela, people are always honest and genuine. Amusingly, they fail to connect with the frighteningly simple fact that he is an enigma to them because he is just honest and genuine. He is unlike other African leaders who find pleasure in cruelty, who always have a self-serving agenda behind their memorised speeches and well-practiced, rehearsed answers to prepared questions.

Mandela does not exaggerate himself like most of our weather-beaten dictators.

The Europeans and Westerners, who can never believe anything good can come out of Africa, seem confused by the reality that the world's most revered statesman is an African, a black African not an African Arab.

True to their cunning, they say if you can't beat them, then join them! Now we see European presidents and prime ministers; we see kings and queens and other hardly impressive royalty falling over each other for a photo opportunity with Mandela, or just to simply shake his hand.

I was severely touched by the manner in which the world reacted to Mandela's 85th birthday. It was a highly eloquent statement of what the world thinks of Nelson Mandela.

As I thumbed through volumes of magazines, specials and newspapers, I felt truly humbled by a man I have never met. The world noted with great appreciation that Mandela has been gifted with an appreciably long but very influential life. His gift of self, his demeanour seem to have made him accomplish more while in chains than as a free man.

The heart of the matter is that Mandela is a constant embarrassment to African presidents because he does not fit their mould.

He has proved that brutality, greed, corruption and viciousness are not African traits, but are qualities of individual African dictators who find pleasure in cruelty. Forgive me, for I am just an admirer like millions of others.

I am, however, a writer, a journalist who during my training was warned about being emotional when writing. I was taught to avoid being emotional and logical at the same time. But now I experience the perfectly normal and unavoidable sense to feel what I think as I write. I have discovered that emotion does not necessarily cancel out reason, nor does reason exclude emotion.

I must therefore acknowledge the man whose decency has infuriated me. He shattered my belief that Africa, with its murderous, oppressive, violent tradition streaming one way from ruler to the governed, could produce a son of his stature.

Mandela annoys me because I now know Africa can produce the best of humanity; I grew up being taught otherwise.

Now Europeans and Westerners do not view Mandela as African, but as a product of their influence. This is helped by the fact that African leaders have been unlike him. They watch and even sanction the murder or incarceration of political opponents. They starve their people. They steal from their people and turn their countries into presidential pantries.

It is Mandela who makes me feel cheated when I look at presidents of Africa from Charles Taylor in Liberia to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe (God have mercy!) and from callous Muammar Gaddafi to brutal Denis Sasso Ngueso. I feel cheated. Why did Mandela have to set such a standard? Why is he easily a person so full of humility when the rest of us are trying but failing just to be people?

He served one term just to please the people for their efforts. He stepped down with humility but most importantly with sincerity.

I do not know how many other former presidents the likes of Oprah Winfrey repeatedly visit. Even former president Bill Clinton came for the birthday party. The acknowledgments are there and it pleases and pains me to see Madiba effortlessly acknowledging and without hypocrisy, appreciating a world that imprisoned him for a very painful, wasteful and unforgettable 27 years. In the case of Oprah, I do not overlook what a few million dollars mean to disadvantaged children. But I also am aware of the fact that by giving through Mandela, the giver gains more out of the donation. These high profile visitors' attention is not on Africa but on an African. They come, have dinner with him, hug him in front of TV cameras then dump some money for Mandela's cause then go away only to reappear to try and renew non-existent acquaintances a year later. But I cannot be jealous. Mandela is not a son of South Africa nor is he a son of Africa.

Mandela is a son of the world. I look to the skies and prod the heavens for an answer. How did it happen that God gave South Africa a Nelson Mandela and only gave us someone else? Was it because of the geographical divide of the Limpopo? Couldn't the energetic waves of creation spill into Zimbabwe and give us even a watered down version of Mandela? I resign myself to reality and fate. I and my compatriots are stuck with Robert Mugabe while the South Africans are stuck with Mbeki. Maybe it's not fair to Mbeki, coming so soon after Mandela, but he appears to be failing to put his mark on the political and economic history of the region. Now a Mr George W Bush had to fly all the way from America just to shake Mbeki's shoulder while pointing at a map of Zimbabwe. One would have hoped that African leaders learned and observed the power of humility from Nelson Mandela.

Mandela relinquished his freedom and accepted the necessity and authority of the law in order to achieve the desired goal of real permanent freedom for himself and his people. He remarkably shows no detectable hostility or bitterness towards those who unjustly robbed him of 27 years of his life. I note with respect Graca Machel did not try to change the man, but they just became a natural part of each other. She deserves my mention because it can't be easy being married to the people's man. By his deeds, Mandela succeeded to argue for the sovereignty of individual conscience, something other leaders are suppressing and killing others for. Happy birthday, Madiba! And thank you, Graca!

Tanonoka Joseph Whande is a Zvishavane-based writer.

Ads by Google

Copyright © 2003 The Daily News. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.