December 17, 2013 By K Ashraf

A Lesson in Democratic Ethics and Pluralism

mandela_1National struggles against colonialism enriched Afro-Asian nations with some leading figures, who set an excellent democratic model. Until Nelson Mandela’s departure, we had had the last remaining personality among them.

Nelson Mandela is remembered the world over not just as an emancipator, but for having unified a society divided by apartheid. A society which has shaken off the shackles of torture has to grapple with an identity handed over from the past. There are many examples, say Israel, for a society meting out greater cruelty than they had suffered. The lesson that South Africa holds out for the whole world is that resistance against apartheid-the name of extreme cruelty which divided both mind and body-came from the democratic consciousness crafted around the black consciousness. Under the leadership of Mandela, South Africa developed a larger democratic platform buttressed by pluralism rather than adopting an autocracy of the blacks. It espoused compromise in lieu of revenge, justice alongside truth. The heart of a democrat worked in the transformation of Christo Brand, the warden of Robben Islands in Cape Town and a White, into Mandela’s lifelong friend.

Feminists in South Africa have recently attenuated their criticism of Mandela, as he was ready, in their view, to critically approach his much-flamed attitudes to women. He was ready to respect Muslims as a religious minority and participated in an Eidgah. He started conversation with Muslims with the ceremonial greeting. His was an attempt to prove that democracy is possible despite, and because of, difference. South Africa is at the front of protecting the interests of varied minorities-women, immigrants, refugees, racially different identities, expats, variously-abled, religious minorities, sexual minorities etc. This was made possible by the personality trait and sensitiveness of Mandela. South Africa describes itself as a rainbow republic. It is a rainbow not just of different linguistic and national races, but of immigrants who hailed from African-Asian and European worlds to embrace South Africa.

A street in Johannesburg is named little Mogadishu after the Somali capital on account of the increasing number of Somali immigrants in the street. In the context of narrow-minded nationalism, this gives us a clear lesson to learn and follow. Not only South Africa but the whole Afro-Asian world has immensely benefitted from Mandela’s personality. What is wrongly and unjustly called a Dark Continent had in him a liberator. Many African nations were toiling under the bane of autocracy. When Mandela divested himself of the Presidency after five years in 1999, he was trying to rewrite the history of autocracy in the region.

Twenty years of political history in South Africa show the oft-repeated pattern of a liberation struggle weaning itself from the radical objectives it set for achieving. Ronnie Kasrils, who had been a member of Mandela’s cabinet, revealed in his autobiography Armed and Dangerous that there were elements during the time of Mandela which could compromise the liberation politics achieved with much toil, if the newly emerging social formations are any indicator. A political movement named Economic Freedom Fighters has recently been formed with the help of youths and students under the leadership of Julius Melama, who was firebrand leader of the youth movement of African National Conference. Observes think that this movement could pose more challenges to ANC than white liberal parties in the election being held next year. But Mandela is the guide in the new era of democratic experiments. In one of his speeches, Mandela said: ‘In case ANC repeats what the Apartheid does, you must do to ANC what ANC is doing to the apartheid.’ This seems to be the way South Africa would like to adopt.

Not only his big questions, but his sharp answers will ever be remembered. He will always be remembered as someone who has engraved ethical democracy in our memories. That is what the millions who thronged the FNB Staduim in Johannesburg.

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