More than a mirror reflecting his own image, Nelson Mandela was the epitome of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. His long life spanned the tribal rituals of rural Africa, the Anglicised tenets of the 1940s, the drama of Gandhian anti-apartheid battles in the early 1900s, a short guerilla resistance, long imprisonment and, at long last, power — power that brought majority rule to South Africa.
When Mandela walked free, after spending nearly three decades in prison, he was considered a messiah — a miracle of rapproachment, not intransigence. Yet, it goes without saying that his persona carried a paradox of sorts. This was simply because Mandela was expected to wash away all the rancour of apartheid like a shaman absolving a stubborn disorder with medicinal herbs and potions. The fact was Mandela achieved all that — perhaps much more than what sceptics visualised. Besides, the overall magnetic effect of his personality was enormous — a roseate apotheosis — especially in the wake of escalating problems of unrealistic black expectations and simmering discontent among whites. The silver lining was imminent. South Africa today is democratic — as democratic as democracy can be.
Mandela [July 18, 1918-December 5, 2013] remained an enigmatic figure, in spite of all his greatness — more so, in his later years. For some comrades, who had spent years behind bars with him, Mandela remained a distant figure — a man they thought they knew and yet did not really know. Call it a contradiction for a gutsy campaigner with his own brand of unbridled impetuosity that metamorphosed into a disciplined soldier with a great freedom song, or what you may.
Notwithstanding his larger-than-life image, again, Mandela, as one of his biographers, Martin Meredith, recalls was not infallible. He was too human. He could be preposterously slapdash — witness his rumbling estrangement with Winnie, their children, and his emotional relationship with another woman, the wife of a former Mozambique president and so on. Yet, Mandela was truly a man of destiny — a man of providence, not a seer.
Mandela was the finest product of a nationalist movement — a man without peer in the world, a legend all right. He was fair, down-to-earth, approachable and enormously modest, no less. He always called himself ‘a humble servant’ of the African National Congress [ANC], a global ambassador. Besides, he fervently refused to think of himself as a hero.
It sums up Mandela — a man who loved his country, and the world, much more than anything else.