A statue for Madiba
A statute of Nelson Mandela has been unveiled in London this week. It was said the late South African anti-apartheid activist Donald Woods had the idea for the 9ft-high (2.7m) bronze statue.According to the BBC, Mandela, 89, who was in London for the occasion, told a crowd who gathered for the unveiling that, “Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolize all of those who resisted oppression, especially in my country.”
It was clear, even to the most insensitive, that this was not another ceremonial speech. In his words could be heard the echo of generations of South Africans, alive and dead, who had struggled to be free. Those who had been massacred in Sharpsville and Soweto –of Steven Beko and thousands of others who had been detained, beaten, and even killed-for whom we had a distant acquaintances from the pages of books and images of rare documentary films.
Madiba whose name had become a rallying call and his spirit the very essence of freedom has generously expressed his liking for Ethiopia-a land he called the birthplace of African nationalism. The motherland that trained him in Freedom and War School.In his classic autobiography Long walk to Freedom, he lauded the heroic act of our forefathers who said had showed formidable strength and determination in fighting the fascist Italians aggressors.
Revealling to his readers that he was seventeen when Mussolini attacked Ethiopia, Mandela said it was an invasion that spurred not only his hatred of that despot but of fascism in general.Hence, this country that that drove the Italians away happened to be not only a source of pride for him but also a vision of what lay in the future for his own country.
Recording his feelings when he first set off for Ethiopia in the 1960’s, Mandela wrote that “Ethiopia always has a special place in my imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined.I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.Meeting the emperor himself would be like shaking hands with history.”
The new statue in one of the most cosmopolitan and multi-cultural city in the world is a fitting tribute for a man whose own example offered hope not only for South Africa but also to the world at large. Prime Minister Gordon Brown went as far as calling him as the “greatest and most courageous leader of our generation”.
Mandela represents the exemplary virtue of the struggle for respect and liberty-namely, the courage to embody and live their respective truths in the face of overwhelming obstacles, including often the threat to their lives. And a reminder for all of us –more democracy is always a possibility if we are wiling to carry on the precious heritage with vision, courage and compassion.
And what else one can do other than paying tribute for those icons that have tried to deepen democratic roots in an insufficiently democratic world. And what the British did could be exemplary.
When it comes to celebrating the continent’s hero, Ethiopia hasn’t been at the forefront. Even the Addis Ababa University that has started conferring honorary degrees for multitude of people since some five or six years hasn’t considered Madiba for the honor, even though mediocre and dictator leaders like Aba Sanjo were included. Though there is still the opportunity to do that, one could doubt if the omission was casual. At a time when there is an unprecedented expansion of democratic sensibilities around here, the authorities may not want to honor a figure that embodied a moral vision that made his country’s struggle universal.