Editorial: 'Africa's Lincoln' dies

18:31, Dec 08 2013

You may already have read a piece I wrote on this subject, a personal reflection on Nelson Mandela.

I actually wrote that in June, when it looked as though his death was imminent during a long stay in hospital. I wrote it so it would be ready to go whenever it happened, and it's as fresh as when I did. Indeed the feeling behind it is magnified hugely by his death yesterday.

When I considered what to put in this space, though, I simply couldn't go beyond the story that dominated the news throughout yesterday.

This is not so personal, it's a reflection on the fact that the world has lost, in the words of Telegraph chief foreign correspondent David Blair, "perhaps the only genuinely global hero" of a "sceptical age".

That status was confirmed by the tributes that flowed like rivers, from everyone from world leaders - Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, David Cameron front and centre - to celebrities in any number of fields - the number of tributes from sports stars worldwide has been amazing - to ordinary people.

It's patently obvious that the regard he was, and still is, held in globally is virtually unparalleled in his generation. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa would be among the few of the last century held in similar esteem.


A compilation of front pages of some of the world's most influential newspapers featured a range of tributes. Most tellingly, one referred to him as "Africa's Lincoln". High praise indeed.

Of course, some have quickly jumped into the debate and called Mandela "a terrorist". Technically it's true, he organised some sabotage bombing attempts in a brief stint as head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress. But to take those events out of their historical context is to insult the memory of a man who wasn't a saint, but was the driving force behind arguably the greatest act of national reconciliation ever achieved.

Want to call him a terrorist, point out why he was jailed? Then do yourself a favour and ask what level of desperation and disenfranchisement ve drove him to it, ask who/what put him in that cell. And put your view in context.

Preparing to write, I listened for the second time this year to parts of Mandela's speech to the court at his treason trial in 1964. It's impossible to hear of the two entrenched "hallmarks of African life" at the time, "poverty" and "lack of human dignity", without gaining a greater understanding of what his "fight" was about.

That he won it by reaching out, without bitterness, to his enemies is a modern-day miracle.

The Timaru Herald