Many would call Nelson Mandela a Saint but he would argue “I am not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Nelson Mandela was a human being, just like you and me, yet he became a great liberator, breaking the shackles of an immensely powerful Apartheid regime to lead South Africa to a new, free democracy. The question is ‘What can African Youth learn from his life so that they in turn can use their lives to transform Africa into a great continent?
I have been active with NAYD since it started in March 2007. Pochi Tamba, NAYD’s founder, sowed the seeds then of ‘holding hands’ and ‘together is better’ – she recognised that it was only through co-operation and collaboration that African Youth could help solve the continent’s and humanity’s urgent problems. What we now have in NAYD are thousands of people sharing their community activities, ideas and opportunities for the betterment of the continent. NAYD’s success has been its members’ belief that Africa has a sustainable future if we work together – NAYD simply provides the platform for that development. For this process to work there has to be a great degree of individual selflessness, for there is no immediate personal advantage. Our members’ vision of a sustainable, united Africa is more important to them than their individual gain, and this selfless attitude is what made Madiba the man he was. Not just a great orator, he was a man of action, accepting that standing up to the wrongs of South Africa would carry a price, a price so heavy it transpired that it took many years of his freedom away. “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
There is an invisible link that connects us back to the start of time itself
NAYD’s motto of ‘Together is Better’ is like Ubuntu. Madiba realised that we are all somehow inter-connected. In the beginning space, time, matter, and consciousness were all one, and humanity evolved from this ‘oneness’. We may lead separate lives now but there is an invisible link that connects us back to the start of time itself. As an individual you can either take the positive or negative path in life. The positive and natural way is to work together for the betterment of humankind. The unnatural or negative way is to be selfish, to consider one’s needs more important than the lives of those around us and our neighbours across the world. Ubuntu means the universal truth, a way of life, it underpins the concept of an open society. In simple terms it is being humane.
Nelson Mandela believed that following the Ubuntu philosophy would eventually lead to freedom but he was prepared to lay down his life if necessary. The apartheid regime was inhuman and cruel, yet when released from prison, a great part of his life gone forever, he didn’t seek revenge like others may have done – at his inauguration he introduced his jailers as honoured guests, and in power he led a peaceful, reconciliatory government. “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.” There was never a desire to pit black against white or tribe against tribe, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
A free Africa must be an Africa free from hatred
I would argue that Africa must learn from the harsh lessons of inter-tribal and religious differences and strive for peaceful co-existence, for that is the sustainable way for Africa to grow. A free Africa must be an Africa free from hatred – tribal and religious differences must be resolved. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Many of the problems with Africa’s development lie in a poor understanding of the factors that affect development, sometimes through cultural issues, sometimes through malevolent political manoeuvrings. Education, and even more importantly, development of a questioning mind are critical to understanding what is wrong with the status quo and the actions required to improve it. Madiba’s training and practice as a lawyer was a powerful tool for his arguments with the Apartheid bullies “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education on its own wasn’t sufficient though. It also required courage to take the actions to bring about change. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Nelson Mandela brought freedom to South Africa, but his work is far from finished. Mankind faces many challenges – climate change, malaria, HIV/AIDS, overpopulation, food and water shortages – as President Obama said in his tribute to Madiba “We still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love”.
We need to grasp Ubuntu with both hands
So, how can African Youth ensure Madiba’s legacy? My advice would be to grasp Ubuntu with both hands, to action its philosophy wherever you can. Do not be afraid to speak out for what is wrong, be prepared to demonstrate against injustices, get involved in your community’s development, facilitate dialogue between tribes to keep the peace and organise meetings between religious groups to encourage tolerance, because in the end we are all human, and each of us has a right to a peaceful, loving life……and don’t forget to ask for help from your fellow humankind, we are there to hold your hands, for the truth is with you and, as Nelson Mandela has shown us, it will prevail in the end.
Paul Shaw, NAYD webmaster