Learning from Mandela’s journey
Mandela's death marks the celebration of the remarkable life of a great man, a journey Malaysia can learn from.
COMMENTBy Charles Santiago
I participated in the one of the most memorable protests when I was a student in New York, years back.
Scores of people took to the streets calling for an end to apartheid.
I too shouted slogans and pumped my fist in the air, in support for the world to see the last of human slavery. And it was the start of my many years of sharing the vision of one of the greatest person to have walked this earth – Nelson Mandela.
When his long jail term ended, it was a momentous memory for me, choking back tears, to watch a live telecast of Mandela walking out of the much feared Robin Island.
A humanitarian, anti-apartheid activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and South Africa’s first black president, one of Mandela’s famous quotes is: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. 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.”
Mandela or Madiba as he is fondly known has passed on but his legacy remains. His death marks the celebration of the remarkable life of a great man, a journey Malaysia can learn from.
I was not surprised when top Malaysian politicians showed sheer audacity by likening themselves to Mandela. Former minister Dr Ling Liong Sik said he had learned to forgive from Mandela.
Entrepreneur Lim Kok Wing quickly drew parallels between Mandela and former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, while premier Najib Tun Razak announced that the principles of ruling Umno’s struggle were similar to Mandela’s.
Mandela devoted his life to improving the lives of all disenfranchised people. After 27 years in jail, he walked a free man not because he was no more behind bars.
But because he forgave the people who persecuted him as a way of helping his rainbow nation move forward.
Madiba’s life held different meanings to different people. When he refused to hold on to the past crimes committed by his opponents, he symbolized the possibility of a better world.
He was anti-racism as opposed to Mahathir who perpetrated segregation based on skin color and race as a way of holding on to power.
And Mandela had the grace to retire after five years of holding top office, a sign that power was the last instrument he was beholden to.
His refusal to contest a second term is still considered a trademark gesture of modesty. Following that he was involved in humanitarian work, especially on HIV/Aids and combating poverty.
Symbol of hope
Mandela symbolised principled leadership. Umno is nowhere near that.
Money politics, cronyism, rampant corruption, flagrant abuse of power, political thuggery, blatant transgression on human rights and many more are the trademark of governance in this country with Umno as the most dominant component party.
In sharp contrast to the inherent principles of Umno , Mandela was the voice for the oppressed, exploited, marginalised and fought tirelessly against tyranny.
While in power, Mandela’s government focused on dismantling apartheid by tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation.
Mandela was also instrumental in promoting the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in 1997, which contained passages guaranteeing gender equality and prohibiting sexual discrimination.
Like everyone, Mandela had his flaws. South Africa is still plagued by racism and corruption. His vision of a perfect rainbow nation is still very much a work in progress. And Mandela himself has admitted his failings in his book “The Long Walk to Freedom”.
But Madiba was a symbol of integrity and peace. He did not have hidden agendas to seek political power or glory. He did not indulge in splitting his country down the middle to enjoy power or create a political dynasty.
Mandela shunned his semi-saint iconic image and wanted to be known as a normal human being. He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things, which made him the symbol of hope.
Our leaders are only capable of expressing Schadenfreude. We, as a people, can still learn from Mandela. But it’s left to be seen as to whether BN and especially Umno politicians would.
For now, Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba.
Charles Santiago is DAP’s MP for Klang.