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Preserve Mandela’s legacy by living it – S/African envoy

As South Africans marked the Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18, South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Thami Dennis...

As South Africans marked the Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18, South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Thami Dennis Mseleku, while featuring on Trust TV’s Africa Update, urged world leaders to emulate the icon’s leadership qualities by walking the talk.

To start with and for some who didn’t have the opportunity of knowing who Nelson Mandela was, tell us a bit about him? 

Well, Nelson Mandela is a South African leader, who in fact was born many years ago in the Mvezo of the Eastern Cape. 

He started his activism as a student. When he was a student leader he was expelled and in the end, he actually qualified as a lawyer and he started practising. 

But as he was practising, he was focusing more on the plight of the oppressed black majority and then he joined the African National Congress and rose until he became the leader of its youth league. 

In the earlier years of the struggle, he actually led a number of campaigns, the defiance campaign being one of them and of course, he, together with other youth leaders, decided to say to the ANC that the problem of continuing with protest and peace was actually being met by the brutality of the apartheid regime. 

So, it was time for the ANC to actually defend the people and, therefore, he was the founder and first commander of the People’s Army which for many years actually defended the people around South Africa against the mighty apartheid army.  

He also engaged in a number of strategic interventions that led to the democratisation of our country. 

He was imprisoned in 1964, earlier of course in 1962 and then 1964 when he was then sentenced with his other comrades to life imprisonment on Robin Island. 

When he came out of Robin Island on February 11, 1990, and of course that was a momentous day for the world, not just for South Africa but for the world that has campaigned for freeing Nelson Mandela and all political prisoners and ensuring that negotiations begin. 

And he led the negotiation process and ensured peace, even under difficult circumstances until he was elected first president of a democratic South Africa where he served just for one term and decided to hand the baton over to his successor. That’s Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in action. 

How are South Africans remembering Nelson Mandela on this day? 

Well, led by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as well as the government, South Africans are usually urged on Nelson Mandela Day to actually remember Mandela as the man who sacrificed his life for the people. 

So, it is not a day when we talk and have speeches, have long speeches, but it is a day of action in support of the poor and the undertrodden. 

So what South Africans and what they are doing this year is to focus on poverty, particularly hunger and food insecurity. So many of them are urged to visit orphanages, to look at families that are actually hungry and have no food but also to focus on any other activity both individually and collectively that will actually remember Madiba in terms of his actions of supporting those that are downtrodden, particularly giving their time, 67 minutes, to actually give just a service to the people;  so variety of activities are taking place in South Africa. 

As I was actually coming to this place, I was listening over the radio to one of the radio stations that actually asked people to pledge so that a certain hospital will give smiles to children who actually have deformed faces and needed surgery. 

And within 67 minutes, they had actually raised funds enough to actually have surgery for 67 small children.  

The 67 minutes signify the 67 years that Madiba gave to the people – from the time he actually started joining the struggle – to the time he retired. For 67 years he was actually a man of the people; he gave his life, his time and everything to the service of the people. So that is what 67 years is all about and then it is summarized into 67 minutes. 

Let’s talk about the significance of the Nelson Mandela International Day. It is not just for South Africans but people all over the world. So when you look at the world today, with conflicts not only on the continent of Africa but internationally, what is the significance of this day to people around the world? 

Well, first of all, the United Nations decided to have the 18th of July which is Madiba’s birthday in fact as International Mandela Day which was in fact meant to urge the world to take note from Mandela’s life; to urge world leaders to emulate the leadership of Mandela, to urge nations to emulate the reconciliatory spirit that Mandela was actually advocating, to ensure peace and reconciliation among people who have conflicts for whatever reason, to ensure that nations or states begin to focus on the poorest of the poor, to begin to ensure that when we remember Nelson Mandela Day, we must actually remember that the poor of the world still needs their service, we still need to serve them, we still need to liberate them, we still need to give our lives to ensure that poverty, inequality and any kind of bigotry are actually demolished from this world and that is the significance of Mandela Day at the end of the day.  

How do we preserve some of the legacies, the values, that Nelson Mandela stood for? 

Well, first of all, we start with ourselves as Africans, we need to tell our stories; we need to be able to tell our children where we come from. There are many Mandelas in Africa, many leaders that have sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the African people in particular. 

And, therefore, we need to preserve that legacy by preserving our history; make it known to our children and let it never die. 

Secondly, we must preserve that legacy by living it. You only preserve the legacy if you live it, not if you talk about it, so let’s walk the talk and our leaders must actually walk the talk and be emulators of Mandela in caring for their people and ensuring that there is development in Africa. 

And the leaders of the world must actually work for peace not for war, not advocate for the conflicts for their own interest but for the interest of humanity. 

So, the legacy of Mandela will be seen in the extent to which people are working for peace, people are showing love, people are actually showing reconciliation while ensuring that they are firm in liberating the poor from the oppression of poverty. 

Well, the continent of Africa is known for one thing, which is the sit-tight syndrome. Taking lessons from Nelson Mandela, what do you think African leaders can learn?  

Well, first of all, Madiba actually gave his reasons for doing only one term; he could have done two terms and perhaps his people would have actually said no, you must go on and do a third term or a fourth term. 

But first and foremost, he recognised as, he said, that if you are actually a leader you must know when to bow out. So he decided that it was time for him to bow out and give younger leadership to actually take the country to the next level. 

That is what we need from our leaders, even before we talk about constitutional terms, even before we talk about the legalities of the matter, it must be in the person a sense of responsibility that I am almost 80, 90 years old, I am no longer able to hold my foot, there are younger people here who can do this job better than I can do now because my time has passed. 

So first and foremost, the message from Madiba is that you yourself as an individual must be able to reflect that you have done your part, you have played your role and before your legacy is eroded just bow out.  

Secondly, then also in terms of the principles that Madiba believed in democracy, equality and  so on and so on, the respect for the constitution of our country and the respect for what he has fought for, for many years which is the bill of right and the constitution meant that he actually could say, look I will show by example that you can leave leadership even at the time when you believe you are the most indispensable person, you can actually leave because there are other leaders who actually can effectively lead the same way or even better than you. 

So, I think it is both the respect for the rule of law and the personal belief that you can reflect on yourself to say it is time to bow out. 

If you look at goings on in the continent of Africa today, what would you say Madiba would think were he alive?  

Just like when he was still here, I would say Madiba would have been shouting very loud to the world to say first of all, we don’t need the wars that you are bringing to us, they are inflicting a lot of problems and pains and they are not our wars. 

And secondly, we want a place on the table; in fact, we want to sit right at the table as equals. He actually left the stage while he was advocating that particular message and do feel that it is actually a disgrace that we are still in that kind of situation and therefore he would be shouting more and perhaps even calling for more actions from the African continent.


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