In the passing of Nelson Mandela, the world—not just South Africa and Africa—has lost the greatest statesman of the past century!
Why do we say that, over such giants as Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt who, under God and with the help of the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin, redeemed the world from Hitler’s Nazi Germany?
It is because though Churchill and Roosevelt made great contributions to world peace, their role was limited because, when the guns of World War II went silent in 1945 with the defeat of the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, over a billion people yet remained under the yoke of colonial and racial bondage. Among these were most of Africa, including apartheid South Africa; Angola and Mozambique, under racist Portuguese rule; and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), under English white minority rule.
Most of Asia also remained under British colonial rule, and in 1945 Winston Churchill declared, “I did not become Prime Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”
Ghana gained her independence in 1957, followed in 1960 by many other nations, including Nigeria. By 1965 most African countries were independent; followed 10 years later by Angola and Mozambique; then Zimbabwe, 1980, and Namibia, 1984. The last long haul was South Africa, whose white minority of three million, mainly of Dutch descent called Afrikaners, dominated 25 million Blacks and over a million Colored people. On January 8, 1912 the African National Congress (ANC) was formed, followed in 1961 by its military wing, headed by the young black South African lawyer Nelson Mandela. That same year the Sharpeville Massacre occurred, when S.A. police shot and killed 69 and wounded hundreds of men, women and children who were peacefully protesting the compulsory use of passes by Black Africans. Vusumunzi (Vus) Make of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), who later spent many years teaching at the University of Liberia, helped organize the Sharpeville March.
That same month the ANC, led by Mandela and others, burned their own passes. This action was followed by thousands of other blacks across the country. That led to Mandela’s arrest, on March 30, 1961, with the aid of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was to remain imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years.
In 1975 American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said white minority rule in South Africa was there to stay and there was nothing anyone could do about it! That, however, proved to be “a monumental miscalculation,” to quote Canon Burgess Carr, then General Secretary of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, too, later called the ANC “a terrorist organization.”
But the struggle for a free South Africa continued with the ANC, PAC and Steve Biko, whom the South African government later brutally murdered. In 1976, however, Soweto students staged an uprising to protest forcibly learning Afrikaans, which they called “the oppressor’s language.” S.A. security forces killed many children.
The crack in apartheid commenced with the sudden collapse of communism and the Cold War in 1989. The SA government lost its communist boogeyman and quickly decided to free Nelson Mandela in 1991. That spelled the end of apartheid. Soon the ANC was unbanned and immediately began campaigning for the impending presidential and legislative elections.
In October 1993 Nelson Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In the April 27, 1994 elections, the ANC achieved a landslide victory, and on May 10, 1994 Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first Black President and first democratically elected leader.
Instead of using that overwhelming electoral mandate to spew out bitterness and retribution, Mandela extended a hand of love and reconciliation to his people’s oppressors and invited Afrikaner leader F.W. de Klerk to share power as a Deputy Vice President in the new government. Mandela did one thing more to complete his reconciliatory act. He appointed Mangosutho Buthelezi, the powerful Zulu chief and vigorous ANC opponent, to the powerful position of Minister of Internal Affairs. Buthelezi’s opposition became immediately neutralized.
Unlike so many leaders, Mandela served one term and passed the torch to the younger generation.
It is for these reasons that we consider him the political saint of the 20th century. One Liberian lady put it thus: “Nelson Mandela was Jesus Christ in politics.” For us at the Daily Observer he was the past century’s greatest statesman.