Edwin Way Teale; The Death of a Tree

?He is now resting. He is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father. What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity earned him their love?.

President Jacob Zuma, South Africa

?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 need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die? and never, never, and never again, shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.?

Nelson Mandela

THE DELEGATES from an African country to a conference in Johannesburg were attacked by armed robbers while heading towards Sandton, the conference centre, and everything they had on them got stolen their baggage, their travel documents, their clothing ?including their pants and. Their lives were spared by some good Samaritans who chanced upon the scene, and took them home and attended to their habiliments first.

In Soweto (South West Township), one can see virile youth openly smoking ganga and defiantly daring God?forsaken authorities to arrest them.

Along the roads and streets of Johannesburg, heading towards Pretoria, one can see hordes of unemployed and unemployable youth lined up, with their tools ? shovels, pick ? axes, machetes ? ready for any odd jobs. Included in this group are Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Namibians and other citizens from neighbouring countries and some from far-flung countries like Nigeria, Liberia and Ghana.

But I like the spirit of one woman who remarked (paraphrased): ?Even though we still have problems with accommodation and unemployment, Mandela has paid his due.?

To say that Nelson Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, the trouble-maker born at Mvezo, a tiny village in the Transkei to a chief Gadla Henry Mphakanysiwa in 1918, was an icon, is to state the obvious.

He was the cr?me de la cr?me (the best of the best), the very best, the cream of the crop, the pick of the crop, the best of breed, class, extremely unique. In 1938, Mandela was admitted to the University of Fort Hare, but as destiny would have it, he was expelled two years later for leading a student protest.

In 1944, he married his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko, but divorced her in 1958, after having four children by her. He later married Nomzamo Winnifreda Madikizela, who was sixteen years younger and who gave great impetus to his political career ? producing two beautiful daughters.

When the Nationalist Party took power in 1948, it laid the foundation for apartheid (apart-hood; separateness), and this was obviously opposed by the African National Congress, the Youth League of which had been formed by Mandela in 1944.

Apartheid meaning ?the state of being apart? saw racial segregation legally enforced and enforceable through legislation by the National Party from 1948-1994. Under apartheid, the rights of blacks were curtailed while the Afrikaner (Dutch) minority supremacy was enhanced.

The people were classified into 4 categories: Blacks, Whites, Coloureds, Indians, with the distinctions sometimes arbitrarily done, as for example different people in the same family could find themselves as ?black?, ?coloured?, or ?Indian?. Black people were denied citizenship, only becoming citizens of one of the ten tribal homelands: Lebowa, QwaQwa, Bophuthatswana, Transkei, Ciskei (Xhosa), Gazankulu, Venda and KwaNdebele. Sometimes, there were forced removals, the most notorious of which was the eviction of the blacks from Johannesburg and their being dumped in Soweto. There was an abundance of signs enforcing apartheid: FOR USE BY WHITE PERSONS: THESE PUBLIC PREMISES AND THE AMENITIES THEREOF HAVE BEEN RESERVED FOR THE EXCLUSIVE USE OF WHITE PERSONS. There were distinct buses for blacks and others for whites with their distinct bus stops. Ambulances, trains were segregated; so were hospitals and schools; and so were public beaches, public swimming pools, some pedestrian bridges, parking spaces, graveyards, parks and public toilets. Regrettably, blacks were even prohibited from attending white churches. Blacks had to obtain ?passes? before venturing  into the cities, usually to work as domestic servants in whites? homes, and spouses and children had to be left behind in the black homelands. Blacks were not allowed to purchase hard liquor, their best bet being poorly brewed local beer.

The Bantu Education Act of 1953 crafted a separate system for African students designed to prepare black people for lives as a laboring class (hewers of wood). The whites enjoyed what can be classified as ?The Matthew Effect?: ?For unto every one that hath shall be given and he shall have an abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away that which he hath.? (Matthew 25: 29). In 1966, B.J. Vorster, was not prepared to abandon apartheid, but tried to reverse South African isolation; he, however, did considered blacks intellectually inferior, and had no finesse for the game of rugby.

In 1959, Potlako Leballo and Robert Sobukwe broke from the African National Congress to form the Pan African Congress, which threatened to apply military force to topple Apartheid. This had a greater appeal to Ghana?s President, Kwame Nkrumah, who assisted the party in several forms.

Agitations continued while Mandela was in prison, with strident voices being trumpeted by other persons, including Steve Biko, the student leader who was beaten to death while in police custody in 1977. Pope John Paul, in 1985, while visiting the Netherlands, gave a damning speech against apartheid. He noted: ?No system of apartheid or separate development will ever be acceptable as a model for the relations between peoples or races.? Olof Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister stated in 1986: ?Apartheid cannot be reformed; it has to be eliminated.? At every opportunity that the members of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) had, they condemned apartheid. Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party, was assassinated in 1993.The wife of Mandela; Winnie played a yeoman?s role, and kept the fire of agitation still burning.

Perhaps, the remote reason could have been the suspected sexual infidelity while Mandela was in prison. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Bishop Desmond Tutu, she was advised to apologise and to admit her mistakes. She admitted, ??things went horribly wrong?, especially after her bodyguard, Jerry Musivizi had fingered her of complicity in the abduction and murder of 14-year-old James Seipei.

On Thursday, 5th December, 2013, he breathed his last, receiving his quietus.

Mandela deserves all the accolades being heaped on him by world leaders, as he lies in state in Johannesburg. He acknowledges: ?I am not a saint?. But where is Winnie? She was not a saint either. Sleep well, Madiba; let the earth lie softly on you.

Africanus Owusu-Ansah

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