As we mourn Nelson Mandela’s passing and celebrate his lifetime of struggle for a democratic South Africa, there are a few things we can learn.
1. Much has been said about his genorisity of spirit, his magnamity and his ability to win over old adversaries, there was also tremendous personal sacrifice, hardship, hard labour, and emotional pain arising from separation from his family. The struggle involved tremendous sacrifice. For those from whom much is expected, much will be demanded in terms of personal sacrifice. Let us not forget the plight of prisoners of conscience everywhere and those incarcerated without trial or after sham trials.
2. Mandela was an iconic and inspirational figure, but there were also countless other activists inside and outside South Africa involved in the anti-apartheid campaign… Luthuli, Biko, Hani, Tambo. Mandela also had an indomitable spirit. The apartheid regime tried to cage his body but they were unable to crush his spirit. Instead his spirit soared and transcended the divisions in the country. Ultimately, the world embraced the person once regarded as a “terrorist”. And he knew when to step down gracefully, rather than attempt to cling on to power.
3. Real change does not happen overnight. We may labour and work for change now, but we may not see the result – just like many other anti-apartheid activists did not live to see the outcome of their strugle. But others down the road will. It may take years, even decades to see change. For change to take place, a critical mass has to be achieved. But truth and justice will triumph over oppression and injustice in the end.
4. Mandela guided and led South Africa in its transition from apartheid to democracy and racial equality. But the struggle against racism around the world, and even here in Malaysia, is far from over. Let us hope the racists in our midst realise their thinking resembles that of the Jurassic Age fossils should be discarded.
5. Mandela and the anti-apartheid activists may have succeeded in ending racial inequality. But in terms of income inequality, the country remains one of the most unequal in the world with a Gini cooffecient of around 0.69. The corporate agenda and neoliberalism threaten to bring about new forms of economic oppression. Global civil society struggle must now take on this yawning inquality – the stupendous wealth of the top 1 per cent vs the plight of the struggling masses – as well as other critical issues facing humankind such as climate change.