When I arrived in South Africa to conclude my tour of Africa, people were celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day to mark the birthday of their beloved revolutionary leader.
Mandela is indeed a unique figure in human history who carried out a long and successful struggle against racial discrimination in South Africa. The UN General Assembly declared July 18 as ‘Nelson Mandela International Day’ in November 2009 to acknowledge the positive contributions made by the South African leader. The day is celebrated to show that everyone must bear the responsibility to change the world for the better.
Africa has its own unique role in human civilisation and has witnessed both magnificent empires and the worst forms of human exploitation throughout its history. South Africa has been occupied by various Western colonial powers, including Portugal, Holland and Britain. The country became a republic in May 1961. However, the real independence from white minority rule was achieved during the 1990s as a result of Mandela’s heroic struggle.
While visiting Cape Town and Johannesburg, I was amazed by how the country had evolved in just a quarter of a century. Nearly 25 years ago, victimisation on the basis of racial discrimination was on the rise in South Africa. Ironically, such unethical Apartheid policies were enforced through legislation by the ruling National Party between 1948 and 1994. Anyone who spoke against segregation was declared a traitor and an anti-state element and Mandela faced also criticism for similar reasons.
Free yourself, Free others, and serve every day were the three golden rules that were followed by Mandela throughout his life. He believed that it is easy to react to events and embark on the course of destruction. According to Mandela, the true heroes are those who make peace and opt to build instead of destroy society. Mandela also valued the importance of promoting education. Mandela believed that education could be used to change the world in a positive manner.
He joined the African National Congress to become an active part of the revolution movement. In 1955, he wrote the Freedom Charter to declare that South Africa belongs to all those who live in it, regardless of their race, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.
Such demands for social harmony were a grave crime in the eyes of the white-only government. As a result, he was declared a traitor and his party – the African National Congress – was banned. Latter, the cruel government sent Mandela to jail. During his trial, he admitted to his struggle to establish a peaceful society where all races will have equal opportunities for progress. Even though he expressed positive views for democracy, human rights and social harmony, he was awarded the life imprisonment.
The white-only government was, in fact, trying to push its agenda forward in Mandela’s absence. But he managed to attract sensible people who continued his struggle for equal rights. During the 1980s, Oliver Tambo, one of his closest aides, started promoting Mandela as a global symbol of political freedom and resistance to Apartheid-based policies in South Africa.
In the 1990s, the white government found no other option but to release Mandela who had spent 27 years in jail. The ban on his party was also lifted and a negotiation process was initiated to introduce a democratic system in the country. The first-ever representative democratic election was held and black people were also allowed to vote. The people of South Africa elected Mandela as their first black president and the dark era of the Apartheid government was finally ended.
Mandela brought a number of positive reforms to promote harmony. He ensured equal opportunities for all citizens and even white people were allowed to assume public offices.
After completing his presidential tenure, Mandela decided to retire and engaged in various welfare activities. When he died, a large number of world leaders paid tribute to his commitment towards promoting equality for all.
As I observed the people of South Africa celebrating Mandela Day, I wondered why we have repeatedly failed to move Pakistan towards peace and prosperity. Finding a solution to our country’s plight is out collective responsibility. Today, Mandela is no longer with us but his vision to serve humanity lives on. We must salute Mandela for setting such a bright example for mankind.
The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.
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