Mandela: A Tribute

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Where does one even start when attempting to pay tribute to a man so profound and mighty in almost all aspects of his life, a man who it must be said was sitting with the gods long before he died.

Many kind words, countless tributes (here and here to list a few), numerous celebrations of a great life, unprecedented reactions from across the world, even the critics have good things to say, all testify that the life of Nelson Mandela was that of a true legend, a behemoth of great leaders, an icon of peace and reconciliation, a symbol of forgiveness, definitely one of the greatest people to have lived on earth (probably the greatest person of our times so far). The measure and pedigree of greatness surely doesn’t surpass Mandela. His exploits inscribed on the palms of gods, this man belongs to a ‘club’ of a very few select widely adored individuals who walked the face of the earth, and exemplified to all humanity, selflessly, tender-heartedly, with gentleness and kindness, with wisdom, what humaneness, grace, love and leadership are supposed to be.

Mandela was a precious gift to the world, in all meanings of those words, and to say that the world didn’t deserve him is an understatement. He was too good a soul for a planet plagued by selfishness, greed, lust and jealousy. His imprisonment – one of the worst sins of mankind against humanity- played a role in the making of a great leader; the defeat of Apartheid – was a timeless act; a victory for all who opposed discrimination and hate at that time in South Africa, in our time today, and forevermore. Mandela belonged where his soul had always been, in the spiritual realm, sat contemplatively amidst the gods.

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And before I continue, I must put behind me one small personal matter. I must rescind that email I sent to two people the week before last, expressing grief, in which I erroneously said I will never forgive what these people have done to me. That email was written in a thoughtless spur of rage driven by pain. Today, I’m a hint wiser, I acknowledge that I must forgive them.

Today also I’m wondering what would be the perfect honour for Mandela. An appreciation to Madiba, for all he was, for all he taught us, for all he did. A thankful recognition and gratitude from the whole world. After all we’ve calibrated our years with reference to the death of Jesus Christ (another great leader), we’ve named our days after planets, names which are derived from Greek mythology and Greek gods. Surely, while Mandela’s Catholic admirers will soon enough begin to debate whether Mandela should be revered as a saint or not, maybe it would be a much more fitting gesture to rename Monday, our second day of the week, after Mandela.

Yes, let’s change Monday to Mandela

Without sounding sensationalist, I believe doing so will invoke his spirit each time we mention the day, and hopefully will remind us all of an exemplary life, which although not 100% infallible, was far gracious and selfless, more humane than most of us will ever be, a life on which to model our own fallible existence.

Personally, Mandela means more to me than just a global icon. When I was younger, I learned that my great grandparents on my mother’s side were originally South African (well, from the land that is now South Africa). They were part of the Ngunis who became the Ngonis that were dispersed north by the wars of Shaka Zulu, and who were led north by Zwangendaba. In fact I remember clearly that my late grandmother had the same type of piercings and wore the same type of bracelets which some tribes in South Africa still have and still wear till this very day. So South Africa was always ‘home’ to me, even when my passport specifies otherwise.

Thus, when I heard about Mandela’s death, just before 10pm that cold and rainy Thursday night in Manchester, a dark  haze immediately washed over my mind. I had been napping before I heard the news, and was awoken only to be quickly informed of the news. My mouth became dry, it felt like I had just been punched in the stomach. That afternoon, the winds had been unusually wild and forceful, and the MET office reported of an ‘Atlantic storm’ with gusts of around 100 mph hitting Scotland and  other parts of the UK, the strongest winds in at least 50 years. Even in Manchester, it was a sombre, chilly, dark and rainy day, with very strong winds throughout the afternoon.

The heavens must have been preparing for the arrival of a legend. The gods were about to recall one of their own. As Obama summed it up nicely:

‘He no longer belongs to us, he belongs to the ages’

The next morning, yesterday,  my thoughts were clouded as I recoiled from the news and media storm from around the world. Couldn’t think properly, couldn’t write much, couldn’t do much … a feverish numbness hovered about. It was as if some energy had been suddenly drawn out of me. A weird experience I know, but unmistakably a sense of loss, as if I’d lost a member of my own family.

And in some respects I had, we all had, because Mandela’s life has had a profound effect on my life, on the lives of my mother who raised me (The copy of Long Walk to Freedom which I own {and count as one of my most prized possessions}, was given to me by my mother), on the lives of many young Africans I know, and no doubt on the lives of millions others on the planet. A rare feat.

So, while there have been criticisms against Mandela (see here and here) even in death, the innumerable good far outweigh the few criticisms. And that my dear friends is probably why many of us will continue to draw inspiration from the life, deeds and words of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and why I will never, ever forget him.

Global 100 Voices: No 5

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My next guest describes himself as the proprietor of a recently opened media company(AGM Media).The company offers photography, audio and video services, amongst other services. He’s also undertaking International studies with the Open University. Mr MKOTAMA KATENGA-KAUNDA, thank you for doing the 100 Voices Interview!

  1. As a Malawian, how important is Malawi’s Socio-Economic stability to you and your family?

It is important because as a human being, one always aspires to have a better life for one self and his/her family. Socio-economic stability gives a better chance for someone with a dream to have a better quality life in a developing country.

    2. After nearly 50 years since independence, what visible progress do you think Malawi has made since independence, and in your view, what pressing challenges remain? In view of those challenges, what do you think is the role of government and the people in tackling those challenges?

It is really difficult to pinpoint any visible progress Malawi has made since independence. It is the same scenario of ‘the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer’. It is sad that Malawi has not developed as it should have because the majority of visible structures in our country were built by Kamuzu Banda about twenty-plus years ago. It has been 19 years since we became a democratic country and not much has really changed in Malawi. In my view, I fail to register any visible progress that Malawi has made since independence because we have destroyed the very foundation which our nation once built (electricity and water supply is erratic, refuse collection is non-existent, our postal services are inefficient, Malawian-owned industries have been sold off etc). The most pressing challenge is ‘corruption’ at all levels of society in Malawi. For things to change, the government, starting with the executive, need to be exemplary by being tough on corruption at all levels in society. If the government is serious about such issues, then it is inevitable that citizens will follow suit.

  3. As someone who lived(or has lived) outside Malawi for some time, and has been exposed to modern and progressive ideas, what symbols of development in the foreign country in which you lived have had the greatest impact on you, and why?

I lived in the UK for 12 years and there are a lot of symbols of development in the UK that have had the greatest impact on me. My view is that, anybody that works hard in the UK has the chance to live life above the poverty line. Their social welfare is admirable in that it manages to help those citizens who are unemployed, homeless, sick and disabled etc. The roads, universities, transnational corporations, manufacturing industries and many more are all symbols of development that are prevalent in the UK. These symbols of development have had the greatest impact on me simply because my country of origin, Malawi, is lagging behind as one of the poorest countries in the world.

   4. What lessons do you think Malawians and the Malawian leadership can learn from those ideas?

As this is a globalised world, a lot of Malawians have travelled and are still travelling. When we travel, it broadens our horizons and whatever we see in developed countries, always inspires us that we can also develop to the level of western countries. The lesson to be learnt is that as a nation, we should be resilient and ambitious with our developmental plans, because it is possible for third world nations to become developed nations. We should study and analyse those countries that have developed and try to figure out where we have gone wrong to strengthen our weaknesses on our path to development.

   5. When you last returned to Malawi, what struck you the most as the greatest sign of improvement or development since the last time you left?

I think the most clear sign of improvement that struck me was the number of better cars in Malawi.

   6. What struck you the most as the biggest sign of stagnation or regression?

The biggest sign of stagnation was corruption because everywhere i went, people preferred to do things through the back door.

frgl7. Malawians will be going to the polls in 2014, to elect a new president. In your view what kind of leader does Malawi NEED, considering the country’s current challenges? And specifically, how should that leader approach the top job in terms of creating sustainable development and foreign reducing aid dependency?

The biggest challenge Malawi has, is that we are dependent on foreign exchange for economic stability. As we approach the elections, Malawi needs an innovative leader that’s ready to initiate an ambitious blueprint to try to become self-sufficient. Malawi needs a frugal, transparent and incorruptible leader who is willing to make sacrifices for the future of our nation. This means that we need to utilise all our natural resources in a meaningful way where we get full returns that in turn spark developmental pathways for our nation.

   8. As you know, Tobacco is Malawi’s biggest source of export revenue. Looking at the problems that have plagued the tobacco industry in recent times, what alternatives do you think Malawi has besides Tobacco, and why are they viable alternatives?

Malawi’s alternatives to acquiring foreign revenue apart from Tobacco, is through natural resources. We have uranium in the northern region which is a sought after mineral in nuclear energy physics. Lake Malawi is rumoured to have gas and oil deposits underneath its seabed, which is believed to have caused tension between Malawi and Tanzania. However if the prospect is true, the returns from natural resources are always rewarding to countries with natural resources.

   9. Considering our troubled history with donors and funders such as the IMF and World Bank, most recently when  Bingu Wa Mutharika was president, how do you see Malawi progressing from this relationship in view of the criticisms these organisations have received in the media across the world?

The only way to progress from such a relationship is by becoming self-sufficient. Countries like Malawi are in a vicious cycle where they have become used to being dependants of the IMF and the World Bank. To come out of the reach of the IMF or the World Bank, Malawi needs to utilise its natural resources by channelling monetary gains into improving our social welfare.

   10. We know that Malawi has some precious minerals, including uranium, possibly oil and other natural resources. How do you think the present government is doing regarding managing Malawi’s natural resources?

The present government’s management of natural resources is poor. Rumours were rife in the previous administration that they signed a weak contract with Paladin an Australian company that was given concessions to mine uranium in Malawi. The current government has also kept the nation in the dark about the contract and no one really knows whether Malawi is gaining from it or not.

   11. In your view, can the government do better to manage natural resources? If so, how can it do better?

Yes, the government can do better by becoming transparent in its dealings with foreign companies that are given concessions to extract minerals from Malawi. Contracts should be negotiated for the benefit of the nation and not for just a select elite few. There is need for our government to realise that natural resources are for the benefit of all the people of the country, and not just for the leaders in the executive.

12. What is your answer to increasing transparency and eradicating corruption which is plaguing most governments across Africa?

The answer is to have a strong constitution without any loopholes, a constitution that punishes anyone in contempt of the law. There is also a need to separate the police from the state so they can work independently without government interferences.

   13. Any famous words?

Running a government is very serious business – Bakili Muluzi

 100 Voices is a collection of reflections, views, opinions, ideas and thoughts by Malawians across the world, regarding the past, present and future of Malawi.