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Chris Ford: Nelson Mandela 1918-2013: The long road of struggle is over

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Nelson Mandela's long road of struggle has come to an end.

Mandela died this morning, New Zealand Time, in South Africa aged 95. His passing has been long expected but when I heard the news (via a Green Party email loop) at around midday, it was still a shock.

Everything has been done to prepare South Africa and the world for his passing but it's still a momentous event. The passing of Mandela, a great man who believed in peace, justice, equality and the dignity of all humanity was not going to pass un-noticed.

After all without Mandela, South Africa would have slid into a vicious civil war in the post-apartheid years. Without Mandela, South Africans would not have largely reconciled from a past blemished by hatred and division. Without Mandela, the world would not have known a man so dedicated to end political apartheid, a feat thought difficult by some but not by Madiba and those millions of South Africans of all races and creeds who invested themselves in the struggle for freedom.

Unlike many world leaders, both past and present, Mandela took power but only for a short time in order to transition South Africa from the land it once was to the land it is now. Therefore, he looked upon power as not an instrument to be exercised for exclusively personal gain (something sadly common among many of Mandela's fellow African leaders) but as a means of achieving things for the benefit of his fellow South Africans.

Still, unlike numerous scores of African leaders both past and present, Mandela became genuinely loved, revered and respected not only in South Africa but the world over. I well remember the scenes of his state visit to New Zealand nearly 20 years ago to coincide with New Zealand's hosting of that year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. For our own country, still battling to overcome the scars and divisions created by the 1981 Springbok Tour, his visit vindicated what thousands of New Zealanders had risked themselves on the streets of our nation for - the freedom of people in a faraway land, that land being Apartheid South Africa. Hence, Madiba was the symbol, the representative of a nation freed by the will of not only South Africans themselves but by the millions of people worldwide, including New Zealanders, whose sense of justice and right was affronted by a brutal system.

The only disappointment that I have with Madiba, however, is that he failed to fully confront the forces of neoliberalism. In his early years, Mandela and the ANC believed in a democratic socialist South Africa. However, in the post-1994 era, the ANC government he led became beholden to the interests of multinational corporations meaning that their investments in South Africa's resource rich economy could not be nationalised as a way of redistributing wealth to a people largely denied it by apartheid. Sadly, this one failure of will on the part of Mandela and his government has contributed to South Africa becoming one of the most unequal, developed nations in the world.

On the whole, though, Madiba this past day witnessed his last sunset. But South Africans and the people of the world will not let the sun set on him. His light will shine on from wherever he has departed to and will continue to inspire others who continue to fight for their individual or collective freedom, whether from unjust imprisonment, discrimination, prejudice, hatred and poverty.

If anything, the light of Mandela's soul will guide us from hereonin.

RIP Nelson Mandela - you've well and truly earned your rest.

My condolences to his widow Graca, first wife Winnie, his extended family and all of the people of South Africa at this hour. I also extend my sympathies and thoughts to the South African community in New Zealand who will be mourning their late leader from afar.




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