Wise words from Nelson Mandela

"Wells Mountain Foundation Scholarship for Developing Countries"

"Mandela with Hasina and Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed"
Mandela with Hasina and Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed at Bangabhaban in 1997 during the silver jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence.

It is always a privilege to be in the presence of great men. But this writer had never been made more aware of that privilege than on Wednesday night (March 26, 1997) listening to the South African President’s banquet speech at the Bangabhaban. After finishing his set speech, and before going for the traditional toast President Mandela said, “Before concluding I would like to say a few words about what we did in South Africa to achieve national reconciliation.”

What he said captivated the audience who listened with pin drop silence as the legendary leader of the anti-apartheid movement and now, by far the most loved and honored leader in the world, moved away from his printed speech and added the following words.

“Before we started negotiations with the enemy we made the following three decisions

a) Neither we nor our enemies will emerge victorious, only the people of South Africa should emerge victorious. (emphasis mine). We decided that from our work, and from our struggle people must win and not one political party.

b) That there are good people in all communities — black, white, Afrikaans, colored, Indians, etc. Not only that, we went one step further and said that there are good people in all political parties and not only in the ANC.

c) That smaller parties joining our government will be heard and their views will be given due importance. There was to be a government of 27 in which there will be 18 from ANC, six from the second largest party (de Klerk’s) and three from the smallest party (Inkatha). It was our responsibility to convince the smaller parties that their views will get due importance. This way we were able to isolate the extremists and the fascists.

The ANC is a proud liberation movement of the 20th century. Though it was this single party that led the freedom struggle, yet we decided not to make South Africa a one-party state. We did not abuse power, trust and confidence that were bestowed on us, not only by our people, but also by the whole international community.

Finally I want to say that I have been elected the president of South Africa. Anything that happens in South Africa now reflects on me, regardless of our history. I am responsible for everything that happens in my country.”

This writer feels that sharing the above words was perhaps the best gift that President Mandela could have given to the people of Bangladesh on the occasion of the conclusion of our Silver Jubilee celebration. Will we be wise enough to heed them?

Editor’s note: As we read and re-read this piece written 16 years ago, we gasp in wonder at the wisdom, the foresight and the vision of this man. He seems to have sensed the underlying antagonism and destructive competitiveness of our politics and was saying how important it is to reconcile and to have a “win-win” rather than a “winner-take-all” attitude in politics. He was trying to warn us against the path of self-aggrandisement and pleading for modesty.

What he said more than a decade and half ago seems to be so much more urgent, so much more applicable and so much needed in our politics today. We urge our politicians to repeatedly read the above “wise words” and consider whether we can re-think our politics. May be Mandela’s “wisdom” can rescue us at this time of our crisis.

Courtesy: Mahfuz Anam


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