NELSON Mandela’s legacy as a statesman who dedicated his life to free South Africa from the bondages of apartheid, is as unquestionable as the fact that the sun rises from the east and sets in the west.
Indeed, so much has been written about the charismatic first post-apartheid president of South Africa, that it would be difficult to find one person in a group of ten, aged above 30, anywhere in the world, who had never heard of Nelson Mandela.
Although it is now close to four years since Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013, the magnetism of his name is arguably still as potent as it was during his lifetime.
It is this aura of respectability which drew a packed audience to London’s Royal Festival Hall on 22 October, to witness the launch of the long awaited sequel to Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.
The book, entitled, Dare not linger: The presidential Years, draws heavily on the second volume of memoirs that Mandela began writing in the last days of his presidency (but was unable to finish) and tells the story of the transition from decades of apartheid rule.
The first part of the event encapsulated Live readings by a formidable cast including Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Adrian Lester, Ben Okri and Adjoa Andoh. Their powerfully delivered narrations of Mandela’s reflections on his time in power, showcased the total dedication with which Madiba approached his work.
Again and again the appreciative audience was thrown snippets of Mandela’s iconic quotes over the years, some, such as “it is much easier to destroy than to build,” date back to the time when he was in prison where he languished for 27 years, remarkably emerging with his spirit for reconciliation with his oppressors, intact.
Others underline his dogged approach to sticking to principles, as when he challenged his fellow ANC leaders, saying: “Freedom comes with responsibilities. The people of South Africa voted for change and must have change. Are we worthy of their trust and confidence?”
Former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who now works as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education set the ball rolling for a lively debate by drawing on his own personal anecdotes with Madiba. He recalled a moment when Mandela called the British Queen and instead of addressing her as “your Majesty,” as protocol demands, simply said: “Hello Elizabeth. How is the Duke?”
Much as Brown had the audience in stitches over Mandela’s carefree attitude to protocol, he also revealed an insight of the South African leader’s instinct to pick the right option, even at the risk of being criticised by some of his followers. He said: “Mandela chose reconciliation in South Africa instead of revenge by Africans against whites because he realised that would have resulted in a bloodbath.”
Furthermore, Brown said: “What makes Mandela so important? He was the greatest leader of our generation. He gave us hope for the future. Let us believe in the hope that he gave us and believe that we can create a better world.”
The panel discussion, which included Mandela’s co-author, South African novelist and poet Mandla Langa, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Sello Hatang, Lord Peter Hain and American playwright Bonnie Greer was chaired by broadcaster Jon Snow and focused on Mandela’s legacy in a troubled world.
Inevitably, any mention of a troubled world these days is likely to bring USA president Donald Trump’s name to the fore.
Lord Hain, who was born in South Africa and spent many years at the forefront of anti-apartheid rallies and campaigns against apartheid, put things in clear perspective.
He declared that the world misses Mandela’s forthright leadership and had become a much more dangerous place following Trump’s election as president.
He said: “Trump appeals to people’s base instincts while Mandela appeals to people’s better instincts. We are now in a dark and dangerous period in human history.”
Sello Hatang bemoaned a serious deficit in the calibre of current world leaders, saying that they “tend to go with the flow” rather than demonstrate unflinching faith in principles like Mandela. “Mandela represents what we lack,” Hatang proclaimed. “We lack human solidarity and we look for more options for wars.”
Greer was much more circumspect describing president Trump as a “rabble rouser and a bum,” while heaping praise on Mandela. “We must now see him not only as a great leader but also as an artist with an ability to expand time. Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation began after he left this life,” Greer said.
Mandla Langa said Mandela’s seemingly effortless manner in conducting himself as a leader had not prepared South Africans for different types of leaders who came after him. He said: “We must also blame Mandela for his kind of leadership because he made it look so easy. We let our guard down and forgot that freedom is not free. The euphoria period also brought in opportunists.”
Lard Hain said although it was painful to see Mandela’s legacy being betrayed by president Jacob Zuma who has been fingered in a myriad of corruption scandals, he was still confident that South Africa would find a way of rebuilding a properly functioning democracy. “Mandela said you have got to keep fighting for democracy because someone will work against it. So we have got to join the struggle to fight corruption in South Africa.”
As crowds finally drifted out of the Royal Festival Hall to Jon Snow’s exhortation; “go forth and multiply,” one sensed that this would not be the last time that London or other cities around the world would host an event celebrating Madiba’s fortitude, humanity and unique brand of leadership.
Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years by Nelson Mandela and Mandla Langa is published by MacMillan publishers and is available in hardback, ebook and audio.
The hardback copy is worthy of passing down generations in families, if only to teach young people of all races, creed and religions that there once lived a man who exemplified the finest qualities of human fortitude, perseverance, forgiveness and tolerance.