'world Leaders Must Measure Themselves Against Mandela'

07 Dec 2013 16:30pm
By Esme Konstantinus
(Nampa Features Service)

WINDHOEK, 07 DEC (NAMPA) - The Speaker of the National Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab says world leaders must measure themselves against the standards of the late Nelson Mandela as he was a great statesman.
Speaking to Nampa here on Friday, Gurirab said despite being of royal lineage, Mandela was a unique and simple man who became the world's greatest statesman.
Mandela, who was affectionately known by his clan name Madiba, was born on 18 July 1918 into a royal family of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the South African village of Mvezo.
“He was the first black leader of South Africa who brought democracy. Mandela became the standard by which whoever is a world leader in any part of the world, would be measured,” Gurirab noted.
The Speaker got to know of Mandela during the early 1960s while Mandela was politically mobilising people against white dominance in South Africa.
Gurirab was a student at Augustineum, which was a training college at Okahandja at the time.
Reminiscing about his youth days and remembering the late Mandela, the Speaker noted that the former South African president became well-known in the then South West Africa, now Namibia, because he played a pivotal role in helping black people in South Africa fight the apartheid system.
“They were beginning to get quite noisy and had to learn the power of organisation. It was in that context that the African National Congress (ANC) had to be the mobiliser of South Africa’s black people,” Gurirab said.
He added that although Namibians did not get to meet Mandela at the time, his message and that of anti-apartheid activists Oliver Tambo and Walter Sizulu about white dominance always reached Namibians.
He said Mandela was politically mature, he defied racial segregation, demanded equal pay and mobilised students to resist apartheid education.
“I could relate to that,” Gurirab stated. The Speaker said Mandela went on to draw increasing attention.
“There was an older faction of the ANC and Mandela and his group were going against the advice of the elders and started doing things on their own,” he noted.
Mandela was initially a supporter of non-violent protest, but he went on to form the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party. They led a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government, with Mandela as the overall commander – a position which landed him before the courts on charges of treason in 1961.
He was acquitted at his first treason trial, but was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 following another trial in Rivonia, Johannesburg.
“By then we had launched the Swapo-Party and ended up in Zambia before reaching Tanganyika which is now Tanzania,” Gurirab said. Swapo was formed in April 1960.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially serving 18 years on Robben Island 12 kilometres away from Cape Town, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and the Victor Verster Prison.
The year Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment, Gurirab started serving as the associate representative of the Swapo mission to the United Nations (UN) and United States, a position he held until 1972.
Gurirab on Friday also spoke about how Mandela spent many years at Robben Island with Andimba Toivo ya Toivo and a number of other Namibian politicians.
Ya Toivo, a founding member of the Ovambo People’s Congress which later became the South West Africa People’s Organisation (Swapo), was incarcerated at Robben Island for 16 years under South Africa’s anti-terrorism law. He was released in March 1984.
“It was difficult to communicate with the people on Robben Island, people were allowed to go there with the help of the Red Cross Society on humanitarian grounds,” Gurirab said.
Prisoners were said to endure inhumane treatment on the island, where they were forced to do hours of back-breaking labour working on a limestone quarry. Mandela was held in a small, damp cell with a straw mat, conditions which led to him contracting tuberculosis. Combined with the work on the quarry, this led to lung complications for Mandela later in life. He battled a lung infection before his demise on Thursday.
When Mandela was released from prison, Namibia was on the verge of becoming an independent country.
“We had just finished writing and adopted the Namibian constitution on 09 February 1990. Mandela was released two days later, on 11 February 1990. We invited him through the ANC. Not for him to come as part of FW de Klerk's delegation, but as a special guest of Swapo and its leaders. That is how he first came to Namibia,” Gurirab noted.
Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
The late Mandela and founding President Sam Nujoma formalised relations between the two countries and identified areas of cooperation while spearheading what the two governments would do in their respective countries.
“South Africa and Namibia established diplomatic relations and sent the first ambassador designate to South Africa. South Africa also designated an ambassador who lived here,” Gurirab said.
Mandela stepped down as president in 1999, retiring from active politics but maintaining a strong international presence. Amongst other things, he was a founding member of the Elders, a group of international leaders which was established in 2007 for the promotion of conflict resolution and problem solving throughout the world. He remained an advocate of peace, reconciliation and social justice and continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, amongst others.