Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ on the earth plane comes to an end today when he is buried. But the light hasn’t gone out as some quaintly say. His beacon will shine on for oppressed people so long as there are oppressors and oppressed.
Freedom comes at a price and Nelson Mandela paid a very heavy price for it, as did his family, comrades and compatriots, black and white. The price paid by the blacks is known: imprisonment, torture, death, deprivation, wretchedness and sub-human status. But the pro-Apartheid and acquiescent white majority paid the steeper price of being dehumanized and brutalized. It is better to struggle in bondage and yet retain one’s humanity rather than be a wealthy but inhuman brute. Rather free and poor than inhuman and rich.
In forcing out the truth, forgiving and reconciling, Mandela freed the inhuman whites too and returned to them their humanity. He freed the prisoner and jailer alike.
Enough has been written and said on Nelson Mandela for me to add anything. I can only look at the man and his legacy from Pakistani eyes, for there are important lessons for us in his struggle, his achievements and bequest to Mankind. Mandela never gave up. He stuck to his mission with a tunnel vision and clarity of purpose and mind. Not for him deals, bargains and pardons that are the preserve of the cowardly, selfish, greedy, confused and guilty.
While Mandela had a state to start with, Mohammad Ali Jinnah made a state called Pakistan. But forging it into a nation-state is something else and can only be done by making it work and progress to improve the human condition. Mandela didn’t have time for that; he could only set the process in motion. Jinnah had even less time and couldn’t even set the process in motion. He left us with a great social contract in his speech of August 11, 1947 but his successors and followers collectively betrayed him – not just his lieutenants but also leaders, politicians and the people as well. Mandela had the time to authenticate South Africa’s constitution. Jinnah’s successors ignored his social contract of August 11 and replaced it with the Objectives Resolution two years later, betraying not only him but their confusion as well, manifesting their malfeasance by handing Pakistan over to those very religious, feudal and tribal forces that Mr. Jinnah had wanted to put into the background. Now it is up to Mandela’s successors to make South Africa succeed else they will have betrayed his legacy. The portents didn’t look good when the crowd at Mandela’s memorial booed and jeered President Zuma for he is said to be going the same way as Jinnah’s successors with his alleged corruption. Mandela should not be reduced to just a symbol like Jinnah has been, his face only fit for currency and coins. Instead, turning Mandela’s dream into reality should become the objective like Jinnah’s hasn’t so far and still remains our objective. South Africa’s blacks are still poor; the whites still rich, yet they claim to be united as a free ‘Rainbow Nation’ in aped western electoral democracy, pluralism and inclusiveness. Ditto Pakistan, the whites here being the charmed few.
Mandela taught his people that great Divine quality — forgiveness. It’s worth it. Nelson Mandela defeated his bitterness and hate and forgave. People vented their hearts out about their suffering and tyrants tearfully admitted their wrongdoings in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He thereby liberated not only the prisoners from the vast jail, his country had become but also the jailers. Out came the truth, they reconciled and forgave, learned from their awful past, buried it and started looking towards the future. There is a lesson in this for us: learn from the past, bury it and move on to make a great future. When you forgive a person you free yourself and him simultaneously. You not only do yourself a favour but also him a favour. When mutual forgiveness is done at the level of a nation, you do your entire nation a favour. Very great men do that, the sort that history sees but rarely. When Mandela forgave his tormentors, he walked in the footsteps of Muhammad the Messenger of God (pbuh) who forgave the people of Mecca after its conquest. Not a drop of blood was shed; no one was looted, no booty taken. In later years, he was betrayed by his successors as well.
Though Mandela was the last of the great freedom fighters of the last century, like Jinnah he was different from the rest. While Jinnah won freedom for his people from the external colonizer, Mandela fought against internal colonization by a white majority that had occupied his land and enslaved its natives for over 300 years but couldn’t wipe them out. The Americans wiped out their natives, the Australian the Aborigines and New Zealanders the Maoris keeping only a few in reservations to keep the ‘species’ alive as it were, objectives of curiosity to perform their old dances and rituals for people’s diversion. Jinnah helped create a new state; Mandela saved the state. Jinnah didn’t have time to craft a diverse people into a nation. It remains to be seen whether Mandela’s South Africa will really become a nation. Both Jinnah and Mandela changed the status quo and changed the course of history.
While Mr. Jinnah’s successors let him down very badly and have turned his dream into a nightmare, it’s too early to say whether Mr. Mandela’s successors will do the same. It is less likely, because the South Africans have taken ownership of the state while Pakistanis cling to parochialism. The excuse, “what has the state done for us” is facetious; you have to take what is yours instead of following bogus leaders and do something for the state first. Taking dividends from your stake is up to you and will depend entirely on the management you elect at your annual general meetings to handle the corporate entity your stake is in. National elections are the same as company elections, to vote in a management that will preserve your stake in it and give you dividends. While freedom isn’t free, neither are dividends for a business stakeholder.
It’s too early to tell whether South Africa will really become a truly democratic, plural, egalitarian and inclusive society or go the way of other tribalism-riven African countries, some divided by religion. Sadly, Pakistan has. It is torn asunder with great cleavages and rifts and has become a battleground for superpower rivalries. We are to blame because we let them in for imaginary short-term gains that turned out to be huge losses: a gun and drugs culture, hot money, breakdown of law and society, the erosion of values and now a loss of emotional stake in the state. It’s our fault entirely. Don’t blame circumstances or fate, for in so doing you shrink from your own responsibility and blame God instead. Don’t put the Almighty in the dock. God gave you the greatest of all weapons: a mind and free will and His word to use for your own good. It you misuse these weapons and start walking the wrong path, guided by politicians, clerics and shamans, done blame anyone but yourself. You are your own best guide and politician — or worst. Don’t blame fate or God if you don’t.
The vast majority of its people remain poor, suffering from sham democracy born of an unworkable constitution. The vast majority of South Africans remain poor too: joblessness amongst blacks is one in three while in whites it is one in twenty. Parochialism stalks our land. There is no sense of nationhood. Injustice and the absence of justice are rife. The majority is illiterate. The minority that runs the state has dysfunctional education, not understanding what they are doing or why, but simply going through the motions, like thinking that elections are equal to democracy. All they are good at is aping the white colonizer’s systems, like good reverse engineers because they remain mentally colonized. Corruption, loot and plunder are rife which only happens when love for country is lost. The state is burdened with an unconscionable debt and is in the hands of multilateral lending agencies and superpowers leaving us with no option but to do their will. Pakistan’s sovereignty and independence have been shredded to fiction. Its leaders are intellectually wanting, slavishly imposing western political philosophies and constructs on their people.
If from the foregoing, you come to the conclusion that our future is gloomy you are wrong. It certainly is gloomy for our predatory ruling class that in this context doesn’t include what we call the non-political elite. We are all learning from our mistakes, which is the most painful but the best way of learning because we are not learning theoretically but by experience. The time is not far when there will be a great social upheaval and the tidal wave of anger will sweep all oppressors and their citadels aside and change the status quo for the better. The wise will be prepared, instead of living in denial, comforted by what they read about global and local financial and political analyses and prognosis. The world is changing, power shifts and realignments are taking place and people have become more aware of their rights and have started identifying their oppressors and their oppressive systems everywhere. Today you take the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ as business as usual, looking for conspiracies, schemers and ‘scripts’. No, Sir, the people have risen. Just because superpowers and regional governments are interfering to push their own agendas and are using terrorists to mingle with the crowds to create further chaos doesn’t mean that the people have not risen. In the end, the people prevail. The global and regional powers should look at themselves and bother about when ‘springs’ could hit them too. The time is not far. It’s started in parts of Europe.
The struggle never stops. It goes on. Without struggle Man would not progress and improve. He would be boring. The Arabic word for struggle is Jihad.