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Pieces of a man : Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Posted by radio On December - 8 - 2013

[By: Kagiso Mnisi]



As I wormed my way around a sprawl of well-wishers at Mandela square, Sandton where the deceased elderly statesman’s colossal statue jubilantly elbows about in signatory dance. The lingering thought that came to mind was, who was the man beyond the trappings of re- conciliatory rhetoric? Who was this man that ended becoming father of the globe albeit his absenteeism to his immediate family whilst held captive in Robben Island? The global consciousness about him is that he was capable of moving mountains and parting seas, but he was after all just a man. A man with impeccable negotiation skills, selflessness and primo usherer of what was to be known as a rainbow nation.Nelson Mandela on Day After Release




The quest to be a man


In his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, succintly expresses the genesis of his political consciousness starting at the precise moment that he went through initiation. In that wake whilst everyone in his midst flinchingly shouted out, as expected during the surgical ritual, ‘I’m a man.’ The overseer of the process retorted in saying, ‘how are you to call yourselves men when the land of your fathers has been invaded and taken away from you?” The ‘trouble maker’ as his name Rolihlahla colloquially means, had his path in life paved for him. He was soon to be a sworn revolutionary.



Sword still in sheath : Kofifi days


Annals would say Rolihlahla ‘fled’ to Johannesburg in the wake of an arranged marriage back in Mqhekezweni. But did he really, or was this just a man in the know of the full gist of his destiny already? Soon after landing in Johannesburg, he found a kindred spirit in Walter Sisulu who went on to mentor him and become his conscience. Sisulu saw to it that Mandela wrapped up his law studies, this during a time when city slicking was slow creeping in his lanky frame. He was man about Sophiatown – vintage Cuban motor vehicles, tailored suits and women about town ogling over his impeccable public speaking about the political injustice of the apartheid regime.







Sword drawn from sheath : being radical


Soon after opening his law office, Mandela’s role in the youth league became more pronounced. The league was an organ of the ANC effervescent with unquestionable radicalism. He was soon to be held as a treason trialist with his cadres. The case did not hold much and he was acquitted. This fueled his passion even more to consider an arm struggle against the oppressive regime. In 1962, he went underground as part of the ANC’s armed force Umkhonto we sizwe. He was by then a wanted man and number one enemy of the state. Umkhonto weSizwe’s military sensibilities had with is strategic knowledge of combat through the usage of Molotov cocktails and other artillery.


In the dock at Rivonia Trial and Robben Island


In 62, represented by lawyer George Bizos, Mandela was unapologetic in his stance to liberate his people. An excerpt from his Rivonia trial speech reads as such :

“The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being threatened by the Native Land Act. For thirty-seven years – that is until 1949 – it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions; it sent delegations to the Government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But White Governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater.”


Soon after, the revolutionary was sentenced to tenure of life imprisonment. However he spent 18 years in Robben Island and later served at Pollsmoor prison. Whilst detained in Robben Island, his was a scenario planning exercise whereby he spent time studying the enemy and rallying his cadres. He learnt Afrikaans as a primary endeavour. This was to be a time that his family and children would bear the yolk of an absent husband and father. International pressure ensued for his release and the threat to impose sanctions on the South African nationalist regime loomed. He was then released in 1990.


The negotiator


At odds with civil strife that was threatening to destabilise South Africa, then president F.W. De Klerk buckled under pressure and had to allow for the to be negotiations with the ANC whose president was Mandela at the time. As an astute negotiator, Mandela forced for apartheid to be abolished. These were tense negotiations which happened against the backdrop of escalating township violence. The first multi-racial elections occurred in 1994 and the ANC was voted into parliament where the rhetoric was of national unity. A new constitution was drafted and the Truth and Reconciliation commission formed to investigate past human rights abuses. Mandela’s presidency forged a belief in a rainbow nation


The diplomat and darling of the world


After serving only one term in office, Mandela passed on the reign to Thabo Mbeki to assume presidency. The act of selflessness and relinquishing of power warmed the statesman to the world. He became a beacon of hope and inspiration. This led to various humanitarian efforts, 466664


These are epitaphs that did the rounds in the scribe’s mind whilst overwhelmed by the somber crowd at the Sandton square. A reflection and realisation of his milestones and influence on the globe. During all this, that he was a man and not a heroic mythical figure. Yes in human form he did metaphorically part seas. Who is next in line? Or is the next game changer not born yet?





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