Tuli Can't Stop Talking

These are just my thoughts on contemporary issues and an attempt to open up a dialogue.

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A citizen who cares deeply about the United States Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Happy Birthday President Mandela!

Mandela Celebrates His 90th Birthday


LONDON — There was a time, not all that long ago, when he was the invisible man whose name was a battle cry, his appearance known to most people only from an out-of-date photograph, a hidden hero on a prison island off the coast of Africa.

But as he celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday, Nelson Mandela was anything but invisible, a figure of reverence whose nine decades have been marked and observed at a huge rock concert in London’s Hyde Park, a gala dinner for his children’s charity in the august, chandeliered Long Room at Lord’s cricket ground and a host of tributes.

The actual day of his birth was supposed to be celebrated with a quiet affair in his ancestral village of Qunu in the southeast of South Africa — with a mere 500 of his closest friends in attendance, and a wry self-deprecation.

“We are honored that you wish to celebrate the birthday of a retired old man, who no longer has power or influence,” he said in a public radio message, according to news reports.

Friday was also the 10th anniversary of his marriage to Graca Machel, the widow of Samora Machel, a revolutionary leader and former president of Mozambique. He divorced Winnie Mandela in 1996.

Part of Mr. Mandela has always seemed to be public property, owned initially by foes of apartheid rule in South Africa and now a kind of universal talisman of integrity and dignity — a name to bring a flush of moral ardor to the most jaded celebrity visages.

Where his name once resonated around the segregated black townships of apartheid South Africa, chanted by the rebellious youths who challenged white rule, it now seems to head a list of encounters with notables sought by rock stars and politicians. He has apparently enjoyed a degree of mutual admiration: in 1997, for instance, he referred to the British pop group the Spice Girls as his “heroes” when he met them.

In his presence, even the most battle-scarred and cynical of politicians seem to feel they are wafted to the high ground wrought by Mr. Mandela’s 27 years in prison. His stature and charisma have given him entrée from the White House in Washington to 10 Downing Street in London.

Remarkably, it is now 18 years since Mr. Mandela was released from jail, 14 years since he triumphed in his country’s first democratic elections, eight since he left office and four since he formally withdrew from public life. But, contrary to his disclaimer of power and influence in his birthday message, he is still seen as a guarantor of his country’s remarkable transition from a segregated to a majority-ruled society.

F. W. de Klerk, the last white president of South Africa who negotiated the transition with Mr. Mandela and shared a Nobel Peace Prize with him in 1993, hailed Mr. Mandela’s role in molding “our widely diverse communities into an emerging multi-cultural nation.”

Mr. Mandela has lent his name to the struggle against HIV and AIDS. The rock concert in Hyde Park, which used Mr. Mandela’s Robben Island prison number of 46664, was devoted to the effort to combat the epidemic that has been the scourge of Africa.

He also entered the bitter dispute over the electoral, social and economic crises of Zimbabwe, saying that there had been a “tragic failure of leadership” in the country.

As Mr. Mandela ages, there are fears among some South Africans that, as the Mail and Guardian newspaper put it, his legacy is under threat from his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

Mr. Mbeki’s critics have accused him of being far more divisive than Mr. Mandela and of overseeing a massive centralization of the power of the ruling African National Congress.

“Mandela is 90,” the Mail and Guardian said in its online edition Friday. “But the sweet celebration of a life of leadership, service and generosity is mixed with the sour taste of a legacy being polluted in front of the old man’s tired eyes.

“Where Mandela united, Mbeki has divided. His willingness to forgive and be reconciled with his former persecutors in the interests of South Africa is in sharp contrast with the ‘politics of total takeover’ that has gripped the ruling party.”

It is thus with a certain wistfulness that some South Africans contemplate a post-Mandela era.

“Mandela can’t come to our rescue any more,” the newspaper said. “But his example can.”


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