Today I celebrate a colossus. Today I celebrate a phenomenon. Today I celebrate greatness! Today I celebrate the great Madiba!! The greatest statesman that ever lived. The President of presidents.
I first heard about Nelson Mandela on Sunday February 11th, 1990, the day he was released from prison. I was only ten. The whole nation was in frenzy. A public holiday was declared and even the ancient town of Abakaliki where I lived then with my father was not exempted. Everyone was talking about him. I remember asking my dad who Nelson Mandela was, and he simply told me that Nelson Mandela was the man who fought and defeated apartheid. Apartheid? Whatever that meant, I wondered in my little mind.
However, as I grew older and watched events, or should I say miracles that followed after in South Africa. The first all-inclusive general elections in that country, the enthusiasm with which the people pulled through that decisive period due to the manner in which the Madiba led and conducted himself through that period. His forgiving heart. During that period, he famously told his people that there was no future without forgiveness. He was elected the first black president of democratic South Africa in 1994. He was pivotal to South Africa getting the hosting rights for the Rugby world cup in 1995, and during preparations for the Rugby world cup, he wore springboks to black South African neighborhoods, urging them to come out and support the Rugby national team. Black South Africans hated to wear springboks because of what it signified. Springboks were worn mostly by the white South Africans who mostly played the game of Rugby.
The truth and reconciliation commission he set up which was headed by the Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to heal wounded scars further galvanized and united the nation. He wasn’t always a perfect man; he had his frailties and personal issues. He once said, “I am not saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”.
He was courageous, selfless and full of compassion. In the courtroom in 1964 where he was sentenced to prison, a place he would spent twenty-seven years, while still in the dock, he said “’I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. Nelson Mandela lived for those ideals.
Today the world honors this great man, with flags flying at half-mast in the world most powerful nations like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the republic of China and on and on. We celebrate you the great Madiba. You lived and died for humanity. God bless your compassionate soul!