The torrential rains of Tuesday didn’t deter the ten-thousand plus crowd of common men and world leaders who gathered in the FNB stadium of Soweto to honour the man, lovingly known to everyone as Madiba, The Father. It was the biggest such congregation where more than 90 state leaders came together for a common cause.
Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela could have been just any political figure whose life and death has no apparent effect on the people he led. But as put by Barack Obama, and felt by the entire generation of people, in South Africa or elsewhere, whose lives were touched either directly or indirectly by him, Nelson Mandela was the “last great liberator of the 20th century”. He not only liberated the oppressed, but also the oppressor. He taught both parties to trust each other. Nelson Mandela was no common man.
What made him so different? What were his qualities that people allowed him to rule their heart and soul? How was it that the entire world mourned when he took his last breath at the age of 95? Barack Obama, the President of USA, shook hands with the Cuban leader Raul Castro, during the memorial event of Tuesday, an unexpected gesture, both being ideologically so opposed to each other. Such was the effect of the spirit of Nelson Mandela, in or after life.
Apart from being a fearless and selfless fighter, anyone who worked with him or even shook hands with him for a few moments, confess of a certain warmness they felt around him. Inspite of how busy he would have been, or how insignificant a person you were, he always made you feel special. Marcelle Feenstra, who was once waiting to meet the then President of SA with her husband, accounts of her experience, “He was very busy and was talking to someone else and shook my husband’s hand, and held it until he finished talking to the other person, just to make us feel important. This warm gesture will always remain in my heart”.
His lawyer George Bizos recalls of his first visit to Rodden Island, where Mandela spent 27 long years of his life, “He (Nelson Mandela) was brought to the consulting room by eight guards, two on each side. Bare foot and in shabby prison clothes, his first words to me were, “George, let me introduce you to my Guard of Honour”.” Even in the solitary confinements, deprived of even the basic privileges like reading, his spirit and determination had never lessened. His wit and sense of humour were the other qualities that made him one of the most popular figures of his time.
He was capable of showing an intense fury to someone causing injustice and was also capable of showing unconditional love and understanding for the same person in the wake of his surrender, disrespect of whether Mandela was the one in power or not. Compassion was also one of his strong qualities that compelled even his opponents to eventually love and respect him.
Leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi are not only the exemplary political figures that they were known to be, they were also the epitome of the highest qualities every human being should strive to imbibe in themselves.