THERE are those among us Filipinos who would dare ask: In the grand scheme of things, does ailing South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela count?
Yes, South Africa is so very far from the Philippines, and there are not enough links between the two countries for Filipinos to have more than a passing interest in Mandela. But there is a reason why United States President Barack Obama calls Mandela a “hero for the world.”
There are few leaders of the past half century who have cast a bigger shadow than the South African leader, a single-term president who spent a large portion of his adult life incarcerated in his country’s worst prison because he dared fight the pure evil that is apartheid.
Along with our very own Cory Aquino, and Poland’s Lech Walesa, and even two-term President Obama himself, there are only a handful of leaders who can claim to have broken barriers, and in so doing they changed the world. Mandela is one of the few who can make that claim because he led a peaceful revolution against nearly impossible odds.
In the dark continent that is Africa, South Africa seemed like a country that was out of place. It was governed by a white minority, which held an iron grip on power. Worst of all, the original residents of the state were not even entitled to the same rights as the white minority. They were, in effect, slaves in their own land.
Mandela did not seek to kick out the white South Africans—known as Afrikaaners—but to righteously have the majority of the people of the nation freely elect their leaders.
This is precisely what happened in Mandela’s country. This ailing leader was the focal point of what amounted to nothing less than revolutionary change in his land.
Today, whites co-exist with blacks, and as imperfect as it remains, South Africa is the “Rainbow Nation” that the anti-apartheid leader envisioned it to be.
But before his dreams became reality, Mandela had to pay the price. And what a heavy price it was.
For daring to take a leadership role in demanding reforms and going so far as to justify violence against the most extremist white terrorists who brutalized his people, Mandela spent the best years of his life in prison. But he also became the inspiration for the black majority of South Africa to fight for their rights.
Without a Nelson Mandela, it is doubtful that the white South African minority would have released its grip on its power, both political and economic.
Preparing for the end
As this is being written, Mandela remains in critical condition in a hospital. At 94, the prospects for a recovery are not too bright. In fact, his family and countrymen are expecting the worst-case scenario to take place in the next few days.
The great man is barely hanging on by a thread and world leaders have been offering him and his immediate family their prayers and best wishes, as have millions of ordinary people from all over the world.
In behalf of the Filipino people, we at The Manila Times also have Nelson Mandela in our thoughts and prayers in this, the darkest hours for the people of South Africa.
His people may be resigned to his ultimate fate, as is the rest of the world. But it remains a painful thought that such a great human being is suffering a slow and painful exit from this mortal plane.
Whatever happens to him, Nelson Mandela’s place in the world’s history is assured. He is no mere hero, but an icon that all freedom loving peoples of the world must never forget.
No doubt, he has become the father of modern day South Africa, and an inspiration for future leaders of all the nations of the world. The greatest gift he would have left his homeland is for South Africa to continue on the path that he laid through his sacrifices.
Nelson Mandela cast a giant shadow in his lifetime. History will certainly judge him as one of the greatest leaders of the 20th as well as the 21st century.
God bless and Godspeed, Mr. Mandela.