During the course of the week I normally retire to bed early to allow myself sufficient time to rest. I did the same the very day we lost him. I went to bed before his departure. I only got to know about his sad departure not from South Africa but from Ghana on Friday morning. My dear brother and friend enquired from me if it was true that Madiba had left us. I told him that I had slept early and did not information on the matter. But, I never wasted time, I immediately found myself perusing copious articles on the internet, as most netizens do, trying to establish the authenticity of the matter. It dawned on me that it was true. We had known that Madiba hadn’t been enjoying good health for some time but we never thought we would be caught off-guard.
I feel so small even as I am writing this piece in honour of Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Like John the Baptist, I have felt that Madiba is greater than I am and that even if I tried, I would never be able to tell the Mandela story to your satisfaction. I am not good enough to even attempt this. And yet, his life has reminded me of the beautiful Jewish legends of the Lamed Vav. According to these, there always live thirty-six men, the Lamed Vav, who are also called Tzadikim Nistarim or the “Hidden Just Men”. They are usually poor, unknown, obscure and survive by the sweat of their brows. No one can guess that they are the ones who bear all the sorrows and sins of the world. They don’t even know it themselves. It is for their sake that God does not destroy the world, even when sin overwhelms mankind. I am sure I won’t be penalised for thinking along these lines. Mandela was a kind-hearted and loving man that he reminded us of a kind and loving God! He bore humanity’s sins and sorrows with humility often not knowing that he had been chosen for this sacred purpose.
Nelson Mandela was a great man, far greater than all the leaders of his generation. Between him and Robert Mugabe for instance, one would be gravitated more towards Mandela than towards Mugabe. There are obvious reasons for this. Mandela has never been a selfish man. When he fought apartheid, his end goal was to create a better world for everybody. He never thought South Africa would never be without him. He was not power hungry. His ultimate goal lay not in wielding power for the sake of satisfying his ego. He had democracy, civil liberties, equality and social justice for all in his mind. He did the best that he could and left us better than what we see in most African countries.
Mandela knew exactly when to leave. He also knew that the world would not end with his death. He left a firm legacy and we have seen power changing hands through democratic means in South Africa. As a Zimbabwean, an African and a citizen of the world, I would rather honour Mandela by doing what he suffered for: serving humanity. I would want it said when I die that here is a man who played his part and has left the world a better place than he found it!
Madiba played his part to the best of his ability. And, he lived his life to the fullest. He suffered greatly for what we see in South Africa today. His importance therefore is there for all to see. I will oppose, here and now, suggestions from Harare that it is his former oppressors who have made Mandela the great man he was. We know Mugabe was once popular. He lost his popularity because of his bad and destructive behaviour. He misbehaved. All behaviour has its consequences! One can’t be jealous of another man’s success. Mandela pursued the path of excellence for future generations and success, naturally, followed him to the grave.
South Africa has lost her father. Africa has lost her doyen. And, the world has lost its most revered moral and political figure of all time. We all are hurt. But despite the hurt, we celebrate a life well-lived. A life dedicated to the service of humanity. Mandela was of the firm belief that: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” In whatever we do, let us always remember the other. It helps us as much as it helps them.
We shall remember Madiba for his warm-heartedness and unselfish concern for others. May his dear soul rest in eternal peace. May God be with us all as we mourn one of our own, the best gift that we ever had!
By Mutsa Murenge, a former WYA Africa Intern from Zimbabwe, residing in Johannesburg (South Africa). All views are personal.