In her exciting biography, Every Secret Thing, Julian Slovo, daughter of the revered South African freedom fighters, Joe Slovo and Ruth First, famously recalled how Nelson Mandela, who passed on Thursday, December 5, 2013, said when he had gone to hug one of his daughters she had shied away from him.
When he'd asked her what was wrong, her reply was that although he had been the father of the entire nation, he had never been a father to her.
If nothing characterized the depth of sacrifice and the extraordinary depersonalization that Mr. Mandela and his comrades brought to public service and public good, this amazing sense of humanity brought the lesson home.
At the core of this expression of generous compassion lay the stark contradiction between people who cared enormously about humanity, that they were prepared to jeopardise family security through apparent neglect and absence.
On balance, as we mourn Mr. Mandela today, we are challenged to recall that primarily, he brought a new definition to public service and leadership that has touched a treasured chord in many places and corners, and that will remain the theme of discourse in most parts of the world for a long, long time.
Expectedly, no one gave this definition better clarity and salience than the man himself when he said, "what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead."
True enough. When news of his passage filtered across the globe, the world immediately stood still in a rare instance, and leaders, statesmen and citizens of the world all rose in homage and gratitude to his immense spirit, his towering heroism, and exemplary character.
"Mandela no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages," said the American president, Mr. Barrack Obama in a moving tribute that mirrored the varied global reactions. In a context of rare poetic muteness, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, remarked that "The soul of Africa has departed, and there is nothing miraculous left in the world."
After a generic statement mourning the loss from France where he is attending an Africa security meeting, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a three-day mourning in honour of Mandela's repose.
Now, before the predictable cottage industry of hypocritical mourners has fully formed around the fact of Mr. Mandela's death, PREMIUM TIMES urgently calls on African leaders to pick and run with their lessons quickly. How we all locate our bearings within the expansive acreage of moral credit Mr. Mandela deposited, as legacy, will be the measure of how we appreciate the life of this timeless hero.
The continent is today reeking of stench from misrule, and corruption. Conflicts of all sorts are tearing nations apart, poverty and youth hopelessness are ascendant, and the vacancy of inspirational leadership suggests that the future is trapped for the continent.
When a Nigerian former governor from the oil-rich Niger Delta commissioned a hospital in South Africa, Mr. Mandela congratulated him but wondered if the hospital would not have been better sited in Nigeria.
As age wrestled him, and sickness took its toil, Mr. Mandela never for a second contemplated the possibility of a foreign medical trip. A past time of African rulers/leaders. He neither had a foreign bank account nor houses abroad. This is on record.
"Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty" Mr. Mandela said in a 2003 interview, settling contentions of this nature.
Madiba, as Mr. Mandela was adoringly called, offer a hopeful salvation for Africa simply on account of his ethical example. Here was a man who spent 27 years in callous incarceration, but came out without a blemished spirit of hatred or anger. When he finally became president of his country he again refused to serve more than one term in office, yielding to what he called a new generation of smarter leaders. The temptation is to go on and on.
PREMIUM TIMES joins in mourning this great global citizen and hero, but our urgent message is directed to young Africans. Arm yourselves fully with the moral example of Mandela, and retain the hope of a better future, by relentlessly struggling to evacuate the stench of misrule that has tied down the promise of our great continent; now shackled by corrupt and uninspiring leaders who have no vision of Africa's greatness, nor are capable of investing to the building of a global civilization.
This is not a moment of ostentatious grief, for as Madiba himself said: "Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for eternity".
This was surely one tree that made a forest.