Today we are giving our last salute to Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential and inspiring figure in history. Mandela, symbol of the struggle for freedom, for peace and reconciliation, for equality and progress, has dedicated his entire life to these ideals paying a high price for being able to see the end of Apartheid. Independently on the views, political orientations or nationality no one can deny the impact that Mandela had in the 20th century and the first part of the 21st, leaving a legacy and a heavy inheritance which will not be easy to fulfill for all of us.
Everything has been said and discussed on Mandela’s life, a man of different roles: an attorney, a revolutionary, a rebel, a military commander, a politician and ideologist, a prisoner, president and later retired but an active campaigner and guardian for his country. Mandela grew up in a continent enslaved by colonialism and then ravaged by civil wars, military coups and brutal regimes; above all the Apartheid regime of white South Africa was identified by Mandela not only as the reason to struggle for freedom to black South Africans, but he also identified a wider struggle for all Africans to achieve their complete independence.
For these ideals the ANC and many party leaders were imprisoned, tortured physically and psychologically, while people suffered an appalling brutality from which the world took some time to wake up. Sharpeville, Soweto and other tragedies and massacres cannot be forgotten and Mandela helped in making the struggle for freedom going global. During the crucial years, when Mandela was in prison, he never gave up his ideals and ultimate goal: end of Apartheid, complete freedom for its people and independence. Methods on how to achieve this alternated in his mind and strategy, from initial peaceful resistance to the acceptance of violence to liberate themselves, because Mandela was after all an able strategist and, as all the leaders of a national liberation movement, was immersed in a world that was divided along Cold War allegiances. If the apartheid regime was strong and brutal, in defiance of all condemnations, was not only for its internal strengths but also because the white South Africa was the ring of a strong chain in Austral Africa designed to counter attack the rising Marxist movements of liberation. South Africa was along with Ian Smith’s South Rhodesia and Mobutu’s Zaire a bastion against communism, a brutal alliance against all other movements such ANC, SWAPO, MNLA, FRELIMO, ZANU and ZAPU in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. During those years some countries, that today cry and hail Mandela as a national hero, were on the other side of the barricades.
Nevertheless, Mandela on its liberation day never showed any sign of revenge or desire to impose a black dictatorship, he made a gesture that 9 out of 10 men in his situation would have never done: forgiveness and reconciliation. Whether acceptable or not, like the controversial general amnesty by forgiving all crimes on each side, Mandela on this showed his greatness not only under a humanitarian spirit but also, politically speaking, as a true leader; he understood that a civil war would have destroyed South Africa for ever, and examples in the continent are not uncommon, tribalism would have ravaged communities and foreign intervention would have replaced white power as the new master. Mandela’s choices have always been a sapient, pragmatic and strategic choice with an ultimate beneficiary: the people of South Africa as a whole. This is what his legacy leaves, a leader that like many others has pursued his goals and even taken unprecedented measures, but with the difference that he always had at the centre of his mind one goal: to give freedom and power to all people, regardless race, language or religion.
Critics are not mistaken in highlighting some failings, after all Mandela was a man, but never in our history we have assisted to such dignity and power of action, without arms, like in Mandela. He leaves today a South Africa that has to face many problems: poverty, crime, integration of communities, Aids, and will be now up to President Zuma and the leadership of ANC to follow up his steps. The absence of Mandela, a man of unity and great charisma, will be missed, as well as world leaders have lost a powerful voice and living reminder of their responsibilities and duties.
His legacy is that the struggle against poverty, abuse, oppression and freedom can be pursued by leaders if they have the honesty and integrity to pursue these ideals whatever the price with only one interests, the wellbeing of their people.