Last week, the man who has been called a living legend celebrated his 93rd birthday at his residence in Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela is amongst a few men of the twentieth century who achieved great success through ways and means that are not only extraordinarily unique but that they have left indelible mark on the footprints of history.
He became the President of South Africa in June, 1994, soon after his liberation from the long incarceration at the Robben Island.
The continent of Africa has countries which are endowed with vast natural and mineral resources that have contributed practically nothing towards making better the lives of people living there. South Africa has a very well-developed economy and any internecine and continued struggle would have wrecked the economy instead of bringing benefits to the people. Mandela must have watched on his television screen the black and white students, attired in the best of clothes and uniforms, singing ‘happy birthday’ to ‘tata’ in the classrooms of the best of schools in the country. ‘Tata’ means father in one of the local dialects.
His achievement after assumption of office was exemplary when he set up a ‘truth and reconciliation commission to settle racial injustices perpetrated during the ‘Apartheid’ years.
After assumption of his office, he took a tour of countries that had supported the struggle of the African National Congress to end the ‘Apartheid regime’ in South Africa. Pakistan was proudly in the comity of such nations. Addressing a jam-packed hall at Islamabad, he outlined briefly the contours of his long struggle. If memory serves me right, he also made laudable references to the great constitutional struggle of Muhammad Ali Jinnah for creating a new nation. It has been stated, and at times a fuller thesis has been developed, that Pakistan was created because of economic reasons.
Of course, economic reasons were a very strong factor when a political game was being played in the sub-continent. Economic freedom without political freedom or political freedom without economic freedom has no meaning. After the last joint session of the All India Congress and the Muslim League in Calcutta, Jinnah had stood at the Hooghly Station and expressed his opinion of that being as ‘the parting of the ways’. He had struggled long for defending the rights of the Muslims in a united India. But he had no inkling or any idea that after a few years and on his return from London he would be called upon to lead the struggle for political and economic freedom for the Muslims.
It is a strange fact of history that events unfold and become a challenge for a particular person or set of persons to respond and give direction or meaning to a historical perspective. One of the reasons of the collapse of the ‘Apartheid regime’ was the corruption that had seeped in to the system. Sharp distinctions in a society lead to corrupt practices. No section of a population can be permanently ostracised and denied even the basic needs of life. To avoid that applecart is not totally overturned, it is necessary to seek solutions and to do so at the appropriate time.
There is a saying in the Japanese that you can grow a forest in twenty years but it takes a hundred years to raise a gentleman. The reins of power, the economic management, the international trade, the constitutional debate, and the effort to know and understand others who only speak the dialect in a slightly different tone or cadence in our country, is now being handed over by the second generation after independence to the third one. The blueprint for the future is somewhat laid out and has a tremendous room for improvement. Nevertheless, let us not forget the men who acted selflessly and continued their fight to save each day, and the next, for the future generations to continue to put in their best. We owe a large debt to men who made political and economic freedom a reality.
The writer has served as consultant to the United Nations and other developing economies and can be reached at [email protected]