Mandela Remembered by Friends – India, Canada

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By S.B. Veda

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered” – Nelson Mandela


Left Mandela at Canadian Parliament, 1990; Right embracing Indian PM, Atal Behari Vajpayee at the NAM Summit, 1998

Left Mandela at Canadian Parliament, 1990; Right embracing Indian PM, Atal Behari Vajpayee at the NAM Summit, 1998

Considered hero of human rights and father of a nation by most, terrorist and communist by others, all would agree that the last great transformative figure of the 20th Century left us on December 5th, 2013.  Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 95, known as Madiba to his tribesmen of whom, if evidenced by accolades from ninety-one would leaders who attended his funeral, one might include near every mortal on this planet, the last of the great statesmen was laid to rest in his birthplace, ten days after his death (Sunday December 15th) completing his circle of life.

Among guests in attendance at the memorial, held on Dec.10th, were three former Prime Ministers of Canada, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Jean Chretien as well as a delegation from India consisting of His Excellency, President Pranab Mukherjee, who spoke at the memorial service, Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, and Smt. Sushma Swaraj, of the Bharatiya Janata Party, leader of the Opposition in India’s in the the Lok Sabha, The Government of India’s elected legislative body and deputy leader of the Opposition in the upper house of Parliament or Rajya Sabha.

Mukherjee arrived at the dais of a packed soccer stadium in Johannesburg to raucous cheers of South Africans, who remembered India’s role in freeing the country from the grip a brutal racialist regime. But the loudest applause was reserved for US President, Barack Obama, whose eloquent eulogy connected deeply with the audience as former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush watched from the stands. These receptions contrasted sharply with the humiliating chorus of boos and jeers, which were hurled at Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s scandal-ridden President.


A long walk and a Remarkable Journey

Born to a nobleman of the ruling clan of the Xhosa speaking Thembu nations of Southern Africa, Nelson Mandela studied law in Johannesburg, and soon after college became opposed to the racialist policies of the ruling Apartheid Regime in South Africa, joining the African National Congress (ANC) becoming a founder of its youth wing.

Inspired by Mohandas.K. Gandhi, he sought an end to apartheid, initially, through non-violent means, later abandoning the approach when it proved to be ineffective against the brutal oppression of the Afrikaner National Party, co-founding the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 which, in association with the South African Communist Party, waged a campaign of sabotage against the apartheid government. He was found guilty of plotting to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment, serving 27 years in various prisons until his release in 1990 due to public pressure.

The angry and relatively young man, whom White South Africa imprisoned during the prime of his life, could well have set the country ablaze in an inferno of racial violence after his release almost three decades later.  But reflective, matured, hopeful, the statesman who emerged from captivity opted for reconciliation – to forgive but never to forget.

He served as first president of a newly democratic South Africa from 1994 to 1999, giving up the reins of power after only one term. As president, he presided on an unprecedented process of healing the deep wounds, divisions that threatened the unity of his country in the form of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where the many injustices of the former regime were brought to light with the view to rapprochement rather than exacting revenge.

Mandela, long an admirer of Canada and India, whose former leaders, Brian Mulroney and Rajiv Gandhi, working closely together in the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations against apartheid in the late 1980s were significant voices in the movement to compel The Afrikaner National Party to release him, developed South Africa’s constitution using both countries as models: Canada for framing domestic policy and India to formulate foreign policy.

A member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of which India was a founding nation, Mandela served as Secretary General to its 12th Summit held in Durban where he greeted then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee warmly but was later rebuked by some member nations, including India, for his insistence on using the NAM as a platform for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the impasse between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This was typical of the man: he would not be silenced in the face of controversy, and felt his relationship was strong enough with friendly nations to offer constructive, sometimes unwelcome ‘advice’. In the United Nations, he was a stalwart supporter of India, breaking with his African peers in 1997 to rally behind India out of principle when all other nations of the continent backed Japan – the bigger spender on aid to Africa by far, over India for a seat on the UN Security Council.

He credited the grass-roots movement in Canada to end apartheid dating back to the1970s as contributing profoundly to struggle of his people, and it gave him encouragement when he was languishing in prison, notably visiting the Union United Church in Montreal for its strong support of ANC’s activities and of its part in promoting his own release from prison. He also addressed Parliament in Ottawa.

A leader guided by his social conscience, he was inspired to work for the poor and suffering of Africa by India’s leaders, especially Mahatma Gandhi, which he made his full-time vocation after retiring from politics dedicating himself to the eradication of AIDs and the reduction of poverty.  His ties to India were evident in his very public choice to visit the nation before any other after his release from prison – a ‘thank-you’ for the government’s financial support of the ANC during its darkest days as well as  considerable diplomatic efforts made by India on his behalf. Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh called him a true Gandhian, and BJP Prime Ministerial Candidate, Narendra Modi, whom polls indicate is the most popular politician in the country at this time, remarked that “(while) many of us are not fortunate to see Gandhiji alive, we are blessed to see the life of Nelson Mandela, who embodied his values and ideals.”

Mandela visited both India and Canada in 1990 soon after his release from prison and was promptly awarded India’s highest civilian honour, The Bharat Ratna (only one of two foreigners to hold that honour); later he was conferred the Gandhi Peace Prize for his commitment to non-violent principles. Canada named him Companion of the Order of Canada, that nation’s most prestigious distinction, and in 2001, he became the only living foreigner ever to be granted honorary Canadian Citizenship. Among his some two hundred and sixty international honours is the highest civilian medal awarded by the United States of America, The Medal of Freedom as well as the Nobel Peace Prize.

After a long struggle that saw strife, sacrifice, serendipity, and triumph, Madiba, erstwhile king among statesmen, now legend of history, will rest with the remains of his buried Thembu ancestors in the small village of Qunu by the banks of the Mbashe River, where his remarkable and improbable journey began.



Achievements of Mandela, Giant of History

Nelson is perhaps the most felicitated statesman in history, having been bestowed over two hundred and sixty awards/honours.  Among them, some include,

  • Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi ,India in 1979.
  • Honorary   Doctorate of Laws- Trent University, Ontario, Canada in 1987.
  • A road named as Nelson Mandela Road, in South Delhi, India   in   1988.
  • Honorary Doctorate of Laws – York University,   Toronto ,  Canada in 1989.
  • The last –ever   recipient awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1990.
  • Bharat Ratna- India’s highest civilian award in 1990.
  • A Park was named as ‘Parc Winnie and Nelson Mandela’ in Montreal,Canada in 1990.
  • Nishant-e-Pakistan was conferred by Pakistan in 1992.
  • Nobel Peace Prize (shared with F.W. de Klerk for their work in ending apartheid) 1993
  • Indira Gandhi Award bestowed for International Justice and Harmony   in 1996.
  • U Thant Peace Award bestowed by Sri Chinmoy   organization, New York, U.S.A. in 1996.
  • Renamed the Park as ‘Parc  Nelson Mandela’ in Montreal in 1998 (deleting the name of Winnie).
  • Named Companion of The Order of Canada (first Non-Canadian to be awarded the title) 1998
  • Gandhi-King Award (Mahatma M. K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King) in 1999.
  • Made Honorary Citizen of Canada, 2001 (only living person to achieve this distinction)
  • Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize, 2000 (for commitment to non-violoent principles)
  • Park Public School renamed as Mandela Park Public School, Toronto, Canada in 2001.
  • Doctorate of Laws from Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada in 2001.
  • United States Medal of Freedom, 2008
  • United Nation announced 18th. July to be known as Mandela Day in 2009.
  • Received the Canadian version of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012

(article subsequently published in print in Pragati, the oldest Indo-Canadian Newspaper for which the author also writes)

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