Fri, 18 Jul 2003

Mandela's birthday

It is for more than mere reasons of courtesy that this newspaper would like to join millions of South Africans in conveying its heartfelt "many happy returns" to the great leader, Nelson Mandela, who on this day marks his 85th birthday. It is no exaggeration to say that Nelson Mandela today is for his country, for his people and for the world what Mahatma Gandi earlier was for India and the world.

Like most Asian and African leaders of their countries' freedom movements, Mandela, who has been an activist since his student days, was imprisoned several times for his activities until, in 1964, the apartheid regime jailed him for 27 years for treason and sabotage. It is a testament to Mandela's greatness that he left prison in 1991 with no trace of rancor or vengefulness, eventually being elected the first president of postapartheid South Africa.

"I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination," he told the court during his trail in 1964, with the specter of a death sentence hanging over his head. "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all people live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Indeed, his years in prison appeared only to have deepened his hunger for a just society. In his best-selling autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote that, "It was during long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.

"A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow- mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity."

Mandela closes his autobiography with the statement, "I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

May the Almighty bestow on Nelson Mandela many more years of life in order to climb those unclimbed hills and to serve as a beacon for mankind and for this troubled world.