As The World Mourns Mandela By Dele Momodu
Fellow Africans, the worst finally happened to us two nights ago. The world had waited with bated breath, and animated suspension, since the health of Papa Africa, Madiba Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s health took a nose-dive for the worse. The World Press had made willow cabins for their crews and camped outside his hospital, his home, or wherever was close or convenient enough to spy and eavesdrop at any possible hint of the big news. The reason for the unprecedented media frenzy was simple and straight-forward.
This humble man from a remote and hitherto unknown village of Mveso, South Africa, remained the world’s greatest iconic figure for decades without rival. It is doubtful and unlikely that any celebrity was bigger in this season. The less discerning among the African leaders tried to place Madiba as a mere African hero. Let nobody be in doubt, Mandela was a worldwide recognised champion of the oppressed, a global symbol of unity, tolerance, forgiveness and peace. He was an intercontinental citizen who was only born in the geographical location of Africa.
Mandela was not a blue-blooded Royal but he was the ultimate Monarch despite prejudices he suffered before his valour was globally rewarded. Mandela served only one term as President but his reputation eclipsed that of many Presidents and Prime Ministers rolled into one. The giant strides of Mandela could never be equalled by any of the sit-tight rulers in the five years he spent in office. Mandela was not a stupendously wealthy man but he had the world at his fingertips. He could get anything he wanted without even paying for it. His collateral was the humongous goodwill he garnered over the years. No equity was bigger than the Mandela brand. The rich and famous grovelled and genuflected at his presence.
Mandela was not a Model but he was one of the power dressers of our time with his bespoke shirts that distinguished him from the madding crowd and gave his towering physique a unique pose which made him a fashionista’s delight. Mandela was not a lecturer but his life was an open university. His life’s trajectory was bigger than most libraries. His story read more like thrillers. Without doubt, he was the stuff of bestsellers and box-office movies. Indeed, Mandela was a mobile cinema ready to be watched by devotees everywhere.
We did not read that Mandela was a pious Christian or that he paid Pastors to pray for him or the nation but he lived the blessed life of a peacemaker and a bridge-builder. He did not try to run his enemies out of town. In fact, he embraced those who jailed him and reconciled a bitter nation in a rare display of tolerance and magnanimity. He never preached what he could not practice. He was practical and down-to-earth. He calculated the expensive cost of strife and opted for the cheaper price of peace.
Mandela did not lay endless treasures on earth. He devoted his life to charity and the cause of humanity. He was not your typical African politician who saw power as a means to an end and the only way to acquiring all he lacked from birth. His life was exemplary as he did everything in moderation. He lived a life of simplicity and rejected every temptation to grab and snatch what belonged to his fellow citizens. He knew that a good name would outlive him and he was ready to shatter the myth and stereotype that suggests that the African is nothing but a trained monkey. He demonstrated clearly that the African is not a hopeless case.
Mandela broke many barriers of sound and light. His fame ricocheted across the seas and oceans. His biggest achievement was in demolishing age-old myths and long-held superstitions about Africa. He was a unifier who blended colours into delicious cocktails. Haters froze at his sight and learnt how to love. He was such a surreal character. He was a lone candle that shone brightly in the centre of pitch darkness. He was that single moon which was bigger than all the stars in the firmament.
Mandela was not a deity, lest I commit heresy, but he was saintly in disposition. He bestrode the world like the true colossus he was. He was naturally charming and exceedingly charismatic. He was tall and elegant, suave and debonair in a classy way. Oh, Mandela was a lady’s man. They loved him and he reciprocated in kind with a disarming smile capable of melting a stony heart. He had beautiful wives. Winnie Mandela, the most notable South African woman, remains a paragon of beauty at such advanced age. Try and picture her radiance before her husband landed in solitary confinement. Also imagine a hunky spouse who was a boxer. But years of incarceration took its toll. The Mandela that went to prison returned to an estranged home. Till tomorrow, what happened between the two that tore them apart is usually discussed as pepper-soup gossip. It is a mark of the true gentleman that he was that he did not wash his dirty linen in public. He respected Winnie to the end.
Mandela was human but he was wiser than Solomon. Even if he indulged like most mortals in earthly pleasures, he was decent about it. You could call him a competent polygamist who had several wives but was only married to one at a time. We didn’t read that his women exchanged blows or interfered unnecessarily in matters of state. Believe me, Mandela was a case-study in women affairs. He ran his home with mathematical precision and tried to minimise the combustiveness of multiple women. He must have understood the truism that a man who could not manage his home and have a grip of his family would always fumble in positions of authority. Not much was heard of his first wife, Evelyn Mase who was married to him from 1944 to 1958 and bore him four children. Politics practically tore them apart and she had to take solace in the Jehovah’s Witness for spiritual fortification.
Mandela was a master tactician who allowed Winnie Madikizela to keep his name Mandela. Elsewhere, this would have been a source of endless litigations. He did not stop his most current wife Graca from keeping Machel, her former husband’s name. His wisdom took him to a matured lady with requisite experience as wife of a former Mozambican President, Samora Machel. Had he married a much younger woman, he would have spent his already busy time training and bringing her up to the required standard. There is a lot to learn from Mandela’s life, and the issue of his family is one of the most powerful lessons. Family is always at the root of leadership failure in Africa. A simple family would always guide a leader away from the sins of gluttony.
Mandela possessed the agility of a lion. His courage was uncommon. His tenacity was awesome. His composure was humbling. He was everyone’s dream mentor. He was your friend even if you never met him. The 27 odd years he spent in prison made it mandatory that you liked him. It is doubtful if anyone would ever endure such agony again in a fast food generation. Mandela made prison look so inviting and glamorous. You almost wondered why such a privilege was not bestowed on you like him. The storyline was sweet but the pain was not easy. Only Mandela was probably tailor-made for it.
Mandela had this incredible aura and effervescent rapport that drew him to people like sugar to ants. Like most mortals, I wished and tried to meet him but failed. It was a dream I could not achieve. Twice, I missed the chance and opportunity. The first time was in London where he had come to make a speech. It was in the early days of Ovation and the invitation to us was for one. We gave priority to our photographer. The second time was in South Africa, nine years ago. We had a crew of four on ground to cover the 70th birthday of the Esama of Benin, Sir Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion. The influential Benin Chief was on a visit to Dr Mandela’s office and had the Ovation Editor and my photographer with him when they received clearance. That was it. I never saw Mandela except on television. I also bought books and read so much about his inspiring life. My dream finally evaporated on December 5, 2013.
The news hit me gently and slowly but exploded on impact like a hydrogen bomb. I was at a studio participating in a musical video when a Blackberry message crept into my phone from a very dependable South African friend: RIP Madiba. This was before the news broke out and the world was thrown into the oxymoron of mourning and celebrating a life well spent at once. I quickly responded with: is it confirmed? You can’t blame me. Mandela had been fortunate to read his own obituary too many times. My friend responded and I knew the source was impeccable this time. I quickly left the studio and rushed back home. The reporter in me was galvanised into action. Nothing pumps up a journalist’s adrenalin like breaking news of such monumental dimensions. I was praying to get home before President Jacob Zuma would address a world press conference as I was certain he would.
I was very lucky to witness the powerful speech, delivered in the tone and tenor of a veteran warrior. Jacob Zuma was gracefully as he released the news the entire world had awaited. It was not a long speech. It was a simple eulogy. There were no hangers-on crying louder than the bereaved. Everything was professionally handled. Within minutes, tributes poured in as if with a vengeance. World figures competed for space on satellite channels. They exhausted all adjectives in the lexicon. It was Africa’s glorious moment, a day when most reports were positive.
I was proud of Mandela. We all basked in the euphoria like everyone else. Celebrities posted any picture they ever took in South Africa. That beautiful country must have trended on Twitter. But at the end of the day, reality dawned on many of us that this rare opportunity would soon be wasted and African leaders will return to base to carry on with the wanton despoliation of their continent and the complete annihilation of their people. What then would be the essence of these crocodile tears and declaring days of mourning if they will never imbibe the Mandela spirit?
There are many questions still begging for answers but we can’t address all in one day.
The time will come.
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