For Desmond Tutu, Mandela represented tolerance; in the contemplation of United States’ Barak Obama, he was a giant of history; a personification of forgiveness in the mind of Ghana’s Dramani Mahama. And for the whole world, he was an all-knowing father, the wisest presence in a world in search of reconciliation, unification and freedom. These attributes and more make up the idea called Mandela. For being such an uncommon person for becoming an idea that now lives and an ideal that humanity now aspires to live by, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela remains immortal and is The Guardian’s Person of the Year.
An outstanding virtue that brought this to life was Mandela’s exemplification of forgiveness. Despite the dehumanization and personal hurt he endured from his oppressors, a balanced state of affairs would have necessitated a revenge of equal brutality and racial rage against the white minority.
By this heroic gesture Mandela became an icon of hope and healing, who demonstrated that peace could be a vehicle of reconciliation, unification and true liberation of not only the African people, but also of any community that had been constrained to existential periphery by colonialism, hate and internal strife.
Just as in forgiveness, Mandela represented a godliness devoid of the bigotry and parochialism evident in today’s partisan religiosity. The Dalai Lama, was once quoted to have said that tolerance is a virtue you learn from your enemies. Amidst the purifying furnace of racial subjugation, political disenfranchisement, economic deprivation, systemic dehumanization, all culminating in the 27 years of incarceration, Mandela became a new meaning of tolerance.
Such a spirit is unbridled by religious partisanship; it is ideologically non-divisive and socio-economically fair-minded. In existential terms, this Mandelan spirit is an idea cast by what some scholars have termed colour-blindness vision. Politically, this depicts an ideology of the state belonging equally to different people, nations, and tribes – Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Mandela elevated this political category into a philosophy that envisions consistent habituation of openness to the enemy.
This Mandelan idea is a veritable pointer to the possibility of a just and genuinely humane world, where a person’s inalienable rights, intrinsic worth and inviolability are respected. At the twilight of his life, when time had purified his experiences into an embodiment of noble qualities, words were no longer necessary for him to pass on any message.
While the totality of Mandela’s being has crystallized into an idea, Mandela himself did not relish the air-splitting pedanticism of professional ideologues; neither was he an armchair theoretician that reveled in sophistry and grandiloquence. Every idea was given life in words, materializing through a dialectical process of argumentation and counter-argumentation. Every word, in turn, was matched with action.
It was by thinking in existence that Mandela redeems the freedom of the African. If the African has to be, he has to do that in a shared world. And to live freely in a shared world, he has to forgive, reconcile, unify with and tolerate the other. To nurture the ANC’s political ideology of African nationalism, Mandela opened his mind and heart to the edifying influences of great philosophers and social exemplars of left-wing persuasion, even though he prided himself a democrat.
This existential philosophy of being-with-others is also instructive in understanding Mandela’s economic philosophy. Both during his Apartheid and post-Apartheid leadership, Mandela was completely pragmatic in its views of material means, and accepted succour and aid wherever it came from including Libya (as an aside, in line with the unifying philosophy one of Mandela’s grandchild was baptized Gadaffi). Amazing that though the ANC (Mandela’s party) financial dependence grew, their ideology was totally independent.
Again, this existentialist and humanist streak comes to relief in his interrogation of rationality. What is rationality? How can man justify his rationality? Should rationality conjure ideas of acrimony, division and lopsided power relations? Rationality does not exist as an instrument of subjugation and oppression in the hands of professional thinkers; it is not a faculty to be deployed for the service of the powerful in society against the weak and disadvantaged. Just as it has facilitated advances in science and technology, Mandela was paraphrased to have said, rationality should orientate man towards eliminating conflict and suffering, especially of the disadvantaged in society. In this way his life was an open book on humanism.
There is a trend in these maxims of forgiveness, reconciliation, tolerance and economic liberation (accepting aid wherever it came from). This last maxim depicts the Africanness of the Mandelan Idea as captured by the ancient Bantu adage Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, meaning ‘We are people through other people’. This maxim was often said to be a guiding principle close to Mandela’s heart as seen in this quote: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
The reasoning here is that, if one forgave the other, he should be able to reconcile with him. If he reconciled with the other, he should be able to tolerate him. And if he could tolerate him he should be able to accept his gift, and share from his bounty. This principle of wholesome acceptability is devoid of the bickering or animosity that characterizes the global ‘aid economy’. In the same vein, it does not foist the political or ideological whims of the donor on the aid seeker. And this is what freedom means; this is what Mandela’s life in totality stands for.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.