Nelson Mandela embodied the loftiest ideals of humanity. His appeal is without doubt universal. We can, on so many levels, relate to his struggle and draw on his experiences. We may not subscribe to all his actions and share all his views but while we remember him, we must seek to understand – and not judge – his life.  Atop everything else, Mandela’s long walk to freedom reminds us that even if you are not born with a silver spoon you can, however small, still make a difference. 

One virtue shared by all great leaders is they had the courage to dissent. In his words he inherited from his father “a proud rebelliousness, stubborn sense of fairness.” He was expelled from the Fort Hare because of that nature. But then it also singularly ushered young Mandela into greatness. The fear of majoritarianism since our independence has taken whole a new form. Nearly there, we are anxious to cleanse all kinds of minorities from the land the pure. A dissident, these days, is not just disloyal but also an infidel.

Mandela believed education was a great engine of growth and change in society. He was strong critic of colonial schools because they had put apartheid stamp on education. African child, each one, at his best hoped to become English. He wrote "education I received was British education, in which British ideas, British culture and British institutions were automatically assumed to be superior” and that regardless of how high a black man advanced, he was still considered inferior to the lowest white man.

Pakistan couldn’t rid itself of post-colonial hangover. Our dysfunctional education system has been worst affected. Our best schools are still the elite public schools from colonial days. We shamelessly boast of “our Harrows and Etons”. Sadly, they also inspired mushroom growth in private schools inculcating same values and driven by banal consumerism. The problem with rate race, they say, is, even if you win it, you are still a rat!

The Youth League, a progressive derivative of ANC that Mandela found with his colleagues went home to home and gave lectures to people; the society where the government spent six times as much per white student as on African student. This was to fill the void created by the education system. With exponential growth in private schools we neglected the government sector deliberately. It is a scandal that needs due attention. At present we have multitudes of education streams. Our children don’t share same worldview nor equal opportunities. Those enrolled in government schools, both English and Urdu medium, or madrassas are as irrelevant as the African students in days of the Youth League.

As lawyer he recognized apartheid had turned many law-abiding citizens into criminals. He firmly critiqued, interestingly, that immoral and unjust legal system would breed contempt for its laws and regulations. Mandela was a marked man in sixties with three bans already imposed on him. Soon all his freedom was taken away. In the infamous Rivonia trial in 1964, he never denied the charges. In fact he employed all his eloquent oratory skills and gave an emotive four hour statement from the dock. It made headlines world over. His fair, articulate and well calibrated choice of words became the soul of the struggle against apartheid.  “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.”

Mandela himself victim of miscarriage of justice arrived as "N Mandela 466/64"  to the Robben Island in 1964. His abode where he spent 18 years. He later wrote “I was forty-six years old, a political prisoner with a life sentence, and that small cramped space was to be my home for I knew not how long”.  In 1989, Mandela 71, on his release demonstrated inexplicably bizarre drive that only placed him on pedestal with the finest men of 20th century. With no revengeful bitterness for 27 lost years, he pledged to reach to every single South African, black and white. He said “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

He always carried himself with dignified humility and maintained healthy contempt for fame. The road less travelled; the path of defiance had its price. Mandela of course never enjoyed simple pleasures of life such as playing and chatting with his own children or watching them grow up or putting them to bed. Being away from family troubled Mandela all his life.  He questioned, not once, his own struggle. He often wondered if one was ever justified in neglecting the welfare of one’s own family in order to fight for the welfare of others.  But he had long crossed the Rubicon and save from a few fleeting thoughts; he could not alter his destiny.

Mandela was made complete with all his inconsistencies and contradictions; with all his failures and fears; with all his mistakes and follies; with all his dreams and perseverance; with all his magnanimity and modesty; with all his beliefs and notions; with all his choices and decisions; with all his virtues and vice; with all his struggle and sacrifice; and with his very long walk to freedom. Every single element of his added up and made the man the world celebrated and then mourned.

Seldom is a tribute so seemly than one given on his last visit to the US, when Clinton with a moist eye said: "We would all like to be Nelson Mandela on our best day." Even if the sun appears less bright, the darkest hours of night shall always be succeeded by the dawn carrying his message anew. “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.”