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Madiba Mandela: The Man, The Myth 

By Francis Wache

CameroonPostline.com — Mandela, the global icon, is no more. The legend passed away – finally!!! – on Thursday, December 5 after battling with a protracted illness. At first, he was said to be “serious but stable”. Later, his situation was described as “critical”. As the minutes ticked to the inexorable end, he was said to be “stable and responding” Then the bombshell: “Mandela is no more”! Mandela stands tall as the most outstanding figure of the twentieth century.

In his lifetime, he was revered, adored, venerated, adulated…Yet, when he was born in 1918, nothing, really, predestined him for greatness, although he was of royal lineage. Mandela contacted tuberculosis while serving a life prison term on Robben Island. That disease and, later, a lung infection, dogged him to the end.

After fleeing from a prearranged marriage, Mandela enrolled at the Witwatersrand University where he studied Law. Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943. Disillusioned with the slow pace of the freedom fighters, he helped found the more belligerent Youth League of that anti-apartheid organisation.

When the ANC was banned in 1960, Mandela went underground. He was arrested and charged with attempting to overthrow the government. Mandela electrified the court when, with extraordinary eloquence, he said, during his trial: "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."

In 1990, the ban on the ANC was lifted and Mandela was released. Surging crowds of ecstatic ANC supporters danced in the streets to welcome their leader. Mandela played a pivotal role in getting South Africa, the first African country, to host the World Cup in 2010. When Mandela arrived in the stadium during the closing ceremony, he was received with rapturous applause.

Mandela was married thrice. His first wife was Evelyn Mase. They were married in 1944. They had four children. In 1958, they divorced. The second wife was the truculent Winnie Madikizela who kept her husband’s name alive while he languished in prison. They separated in 1992, barely two years after Mandela was released from prison.

He married his third – and last – wife, Graca Machel, the wife of the former President of Mozambique, Samora Machel, when he was 80. In the first ever multiracial elections in 1994, Mandela was voted the first Black President. He served for a one five-year term and stepped down in 1999. During his Presidency, he epitomised African, nay, global leadership at its best. The curtain has closed. In the way of all flesh, Mandela has bowed out of the stage and joined his ancestors.

Mandela’s life has not been a continuum of cruising on the crest of glory and achievement and popular acclaim. Instead, he also knew moments of soul-wrenching tragedies: he lost his father at nine; his mother died while he was in prison. They denied him a filial duty: he was not allowed to attend her funeral. When his son was crushed in a car crash, he was, again, denied permission to perform his paternal responsibility.

They refused him permission to bury the son. Another son died from AIDS. These were moments that wracked his soul. But, each time, he survived. Asked by Reader’s Digest how he would love to be remembered, Mandela replied tersely:  “I do not want to be presented as some deity. I would like to be remembered as an ordinary human being with virtues and vices.” That, then, was Mandela: a deified personality who refused to be referred to as a deity.

A highly virtuous man who admitted he was also tormented by vices. In the end, Mandela, the man, fused so perfectly with the mythic figure that where the man began and the myth ended became blurred. Mandela’s legacy? He can rightly be described as the man who walked longest in order to annihilate the loathsome apartheid system and liberate his country from racial bias and bigotry. A question lingers, though. With Mandela gone, many voices are asking: whither Africa?

First published in The Post print edition no 01486

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