MITH THE PASSING OF the 'Father of the Beloved Country' the underlying and recurring theme in Nelson Mandela's philosophical DNA remains the power of forgiveness which he uncannily exuded by disarming even his most die-hard of detractors through the generosity of his spirit and deportment, firmly rejecting any notion of a Maoist 'cult of personality' or even sainthood, preferring to be a sinner who was trying to do something good.
When the softly-spoken African butler of the assassinated South African Prime Minister Dr Hendrik Verwoerd-who was generally recognized as the Apostle of Apartheid, was asked in 1966 what kind of man he was, the butler almost instinctively replied: "He was a kind but very wrong man."
Fast forward some 28 years, and another South African leader, a certain Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first elected President of a non-racial South Africa, on a visit to the notorious Robben Island Prison, where he was incarcerated for 18 of his 27 years in gaol, paid tribute to one of his jailers, Christo Brand.
"You know who this person is?" he enquired from a number of members of parliament accompanying him on that visit to the Island after being newly-elected in 1994. "This person was my warden. This person was my friend."
In a subsequent group photograph, Mandela insisted Christo Brand be in the photo. "You must stand next to me, we belong together," he quipped. Today, the former warden and jailer, still works on Robben Island but as a tourist guide to the museum, into which the prison has now metamorphosed.
"What counts in life," he once said, "is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead."
It is that spirit of generosity in forgiving and forging new relationships with foes that makes Nelson Mandela stand out from mere mortals such as Verwoerd.
In the [20.sup.th], Century, it is only Mahatma Ghandi, Mandela's hero, and he who stood out as the true icon of humanity.
Yet the reality suggests that as good a statesman that Mandela was--especially in reconciling a post-apartheid South Africa, warts and all--as a politician his acumen did sometimes desert him. This was either because of inexperience, (he was overawed by the sheer office of the Presidency) or he was swayed by the politically-motivated counsel of his advisers. Nor was the African National Congress (ANC) able to fast-track its transformation from a liberation movement into a ruling political party.
This impacted on foreign policy and domestic issues alike, including affirmative action, land reforms, minority rights and poverty alleviation; and matters pertaining to his ruling ANC party including cronyism and corruption. Some critics have suggested that in terms of foreign policy, his biggest faux pas was to refuse the Ataturk Award, Turkey's most prestigious state honour.
"As you know he was my hero and I am tearful right now over his death. Unfortunately, a minority of people in Ankara (the Turkish capital), are still bitter about him refusing the Award. I was expecting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would attend Mandela's funeral but he sent his deputy Ali Babacan instead," explained a Turkish film director who is close to the ruling AK Party.
Mandela was nominated for the Ataturk Award in 1992, in recognition of his life long struggle against apartheid.
The ANC explained the decision to refuse the award thus: "... Nelson Mandela has spent his whole life in the service of democracy, human rights and freedom from oppression. The ANC wishes to state quite categorically that Mr Mandela has not accepted the Ataturk Award, and has no plans to visit Turkey, but the ANC's attitude does not reflect any negative view of Kemal Ataturk, the reformer and founder of modern Turkey."
Years later, an ANC stalwart and fellow Robben Island inmate, Seddick Isaacs, explained to me that in hindsight, Mandela regretted refusing the Award, saying that at the time he was wrongly advised to reject it. …