Who says that the world lives in a paradigm of realist politics to ensure survival of the fittest and in which the big eat the small fish? Nelson Mandela proved this wrong in many ways. As he said in his own defence in 1964 trial from the dock, he remained true to his words till he passed away this Thursday :-

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Nelson Mandela

Madiba known more as Nelson Mandela lived struggled and died a pacifist. Yet he changed the apartheid face of South Africa. He gave a new and unknown dimension to political, ethnic and societal theories in which diversity could still become a strong bond between divisive forces of religion, ethnicity, colour and social inequality. The inclusive South Africa that he envisioned became a reality when he embraced his tormentors with warmth, forgiving those who ridiculed him. He also showed similar disposition towards his wife Winnie. In a world of politicians with split personalities and many faces, Nelson had only one face that transcended from the black ghettos of South Africa to become an international icon of light, dignity, poise, tolerance, human rights and justice. He singularly dismantled the walls of exclusivism and built a bridge of tolerance for the world to follow.

Nelson Mandela’s journey from a college dropout necessitated by his political views to a student leader, a political activist, a prisoner and President of South Africa bears testimony to fortes of human character and temperate quality of will power. The fact that he did it with his soft tone, grace and sense of humour eclipsed the misery he underwent in prisons including a bout with tuberculosis and prostrate surgery. He lived a lonely life, his first wife abandoning him, a child dying in a car accident and Winnie betraying his ideals and mission. Despite all this, he accepted his foibles and said in humorous retort to those who wanted to make him a larger than life icon, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

Perhaps Nelson Mandela was the last of the anti-colonial leaders of the 20th century who transcended into the next. Yet, unlike others of the Non-Aligned Movement, he had the singular honour of ultimately being admired by the communists, capitalists, socialist, saints and sinners. He took inspiration from Fidel Castro of Cuba and was considered a communist lackey by President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher. But years later, his moral stature was so high that the President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stood beside him like pygmies. Through his soft speech and political firmness, Nelson Mandela proved that he was an undisputed international leader beyond the South African Reconciliation and Truth.

In 1994, President Nelson Mandela inherited South Africa with disproportionate wealth and services. Over 50% people lacked electricity and sanitation, over 40% population lacked clean drinking water, 33% of population was illiterate while 2 million children were out of school. One third population was unemployed while 50% lived below the poverty line. 20% of national revenues were used to service debt thereby dragging the National Reconstruction and Development Programme. Nelson dispelled the notion of being a communist or socialist by promoting foreign investment.

During Nelson Mandela's presidency, welfare spending progressively increased into double digits and incrementally introduced parity in grants, bringing diverse groups into one.  In 1994, free healthcare was introduced for children under six and pregnant women. Telephone lines connected over 3 million people while 1.5 million children were brought into the education system. Provision of electricity, basic health care and replacement of shanty housings was exponential.

The Land Restitution Act of 1994 enabled people to reclaim lands. He legislated to safeguard the rights of labour tenants who live and grow crops or graze livestock on farms and mechanisms to finance and promote skills development. All rules relating to labour employment and unions were revised.

As the Secretary General of the Non Aligned Movement, Nelson Mandela showed his stature of rising beyond contemporary international politics. He used the NAM Conference at Durban to criticise the Israeli government while urging India and Pakistan to negotiate Kashmir conflict. He came under sharp criticism by Israel, India and his critics.

Nelson Mandela rose above political expediencies to continue befriending rough weather friends disliked by the international community. His friendship with President Suharto of Indonesia, President Fidel Castro of Cuba and Muammar Gaddafi was of a personal nature in which he privately cajoled them over East Timor and Pan Am flight 103.  He invited Fidel Castro to South Africa and conferred Qaddafi with Medal of Good Hope. The Lockerbie trial of two Libyans at Camp Zeist Netherlands was his brain child.

Nelson Mandela must have had regrets for not being able to prevent the implosion of African States into mayhem, anarchy and bloodshed. The neo imperialist and neo colonialist world with its racket of franchised wars, built a wall around his aura to keep the deprived poor and make the rich wealthier. But South Africa is the laboratory where his legacy of inclusiveness and pluralism will continue with telling effects; a legacy so strong and addictive, that the socio-political and economic reforms he initiated cannot be rolled back.

In Pakistan, the leader most inspired by his firm, dignified, principled and non-violent style is Imran Khan. Nelson Mandela barged into Imran Khan’s psyche when the former was an international icon and latter a political starter. Imran Khan has repeatedly mentioned Mandela Politics as the way forward in Pakistan. National Truth and Reconciliation, negotiating with Taliban and reconciliation with people of tribal areas are invariably stamped by Nelson Mandela’s vision.

Addressing a PTI youth Convention in 2012 at Karachi, Imran Khan singled out Jinnah and Nelson Mandela amongst contemporary leaders, ‘Then there was Jinnah who kept his illness a secret so that he could create a separate homeland…and Nelson Mandela, despite spending 27 years in jail, did not change his stance about equal rights.’

Rest in Eternal Peace our Madiba.

n    The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.