African leaders urged to embrace Mandela legacy

African leaders have been urged to embrace the legacy left behind by South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela, who died in Johannesburg last week.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

Dignitaries from across the world, including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, travelled to South Africa this week where on Tuesday a memorial service was held in Soweto. Among the dignitaries to pay tribute to Mandela was US President Barack Obama, who was cheered and applauded for his moving speech about Madiba and the nation he helped create. Obama also hinted at the failure of other leaders to take on board Mandela’s legacy.

"There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard,” Obama said.

In stark contrast to the cheers received by Obama, South Africa’s current President, Jacob Zuma, was loudly booed and jeered by his own citizens who attended the memorial. Anton du Plessis, the Deputy Executive Director of the Institute for Security Studies, said the reaction from the South African crowd was a sign of the concern being felt across the country about the threat being posed to Mandela’s legacy.

“We are at a watershed period in South Africa… for many South Africans, Jacob Zuma is seen as the epitome of the problems we have, especially in terms of corruption, which is really in contrast to the legacy Mandela has left behind,” Du Plessis said.

He explained that Mandela’s commitments to human security, good governance, the rule of law and reconciliation, are values that should be embraced and honoured by the rest of Africa.

“We (South Africans) are quite proud of what his legacy means for Africa and for the rest of the world…if you look at his role in Africa it’s an important role, not only in helping solve Africa’s most devastating conflicts, but also in terms of trying to replicate the values he instilled in South africa across the continent,” Du Plessis said.

He continued: “In many ways (Mandela’s death) is a good opportunity for our leaders across Africa to reflect in terms of a replication of Mandela’s ideals and value across the continent.”

Tributes paid by Africa’s leadership have reflected respect for the man, but not necessarily for his values. Mugabe, for example, has previously criticised Mandela’s commitment to reconciliation as being too “saint like.” He said in a condolence message that Mandela was a “champion of the emancipation of the oppressed” and “an unflinching fighter for justice”. Mugabe, who has been in power for 33 years, made no mention of Mandela’s single term in office or his belief in forgiveness and tolerance.

Piers Pigou, the Southern Africa Project Director at the International Crisis Group, said there is a “great deal to be learned from Mandela,” particularly in terms of his “inclusiveness.”

“The Mandela magic broke the cycle of repression, followed by oppression, followed by more repression, by being inclusive. He was able to promote this inclusiveness and pursue an agenda of reconciliation that he said and believed was necessary,” Pigou explained.

He added: “He did this despite these values and opinions not being well received and harshly criticised.”

Pigou meanwhile said that Mandela’s legacy must be wholly embraced by African leaders, saying the Madiba values of ending social and economic strife and valuing human dignity must also be embraced. He said the Mandela legacy “is not just all about reconciliation.

“To embrace the Mandela legacy means to embrace the whole package…the legacy cannot be cherry picked. It is incumbent on African leaders and all citizens to embrace all the issues and values Madiba stood for,” Pigou said. – SW Radio Africa

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