Photograph via CNN
In the aftermath of the passing away of one of the world’s greatest statesmen and Nobel laureate, Nelson Mandela, it was most intriguing to read the condolence messages that came out from  the leaders of the different  countries. This includes of course, our own President’s message.Still, in order to get  a sense of the genuineness of these messages, it was necessary to relate what was being said, to who was saying it. Therefore, when Pope Francis, a modest and pro people’s pope stated that Mr Mandela had forged “a new South Africa built on the firm foundations of non-violence, reconciliation and truth”, there was no reason to doubt the sentiment expressed. Similarly, why should one doubt Ban Ki-moon whose message read: “Let us continue each day to be inspired by Nelson Mandela’s lifelong example”. He also described him as “a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration”. Other messages that one  would not have difficulty in accepting as genuine were:

Angela Merkel of Germany who said that Mr Mandela’s”political legacy of non-violence and the condemnation of all forms of racism” would continue to inspire.

French President Francois Hollande stating that Mr Mandela’s message would continue to inspire fighters for freedom and to give confidence to peoples in the defence of just causes and universal rights”.

Indian Prime Minister who while saying it was not only a loss to South Africa but  a loss to India too, called him a “true Ghandian”.

There was genuine and understandable grief and sorrow on the part of the leaders of many African countries despite many of them falling short of the standard set by Mandela. Uhuru Kenyatta being a case in point.In certain cases the tributes were clearly ironic and in some cases downright hypocritical given the ideological stances adopted by these countries or the actions of the leaders making these statements. For example when Queen Elizabeth II, during whose tenure the Crown countenanced and endorsed apartheid for decades, described Nelson  Mandela as one of the towering figures of the 20th Century, who inspired young and old with his fight for equality, it reeked of hypocrisy. The same could be said of David Cameron who pronounced that “One of the brightest lights of our world has gone out”. Cameron was known to have led a group of Conservative youth to lobby for the removal of sanctions imposed on South Africa, during the height of its apartheid rule. (His recent foray in Sri Lanka to stand up for the rights of Tamils, is somewhat mitigatory if done for the right reasons.)

China too with the many internal problems pertaining to minortities it has to deal with, was very careful with the workding of  its message. Li Yuanchao, the Chinese Vice President said Mandela spent all his life advocating and implementing racial equality and reconciliation. He not only was a hero in the heart of South Africans, but also won global recognition,
Some messages stand out for their  sheer paradox bordering on egregiousness!Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly while expressing his profound condolences to the people of South Africa said that “the feats performed by Nelson Mandela in the struggle against racism and for democracy would always be remembered by the South African people and progressive  mankind”.

President Assad of Syria, who is  currently fighting one of the most ruthless, brutal and merciless battles to maintain  his rule  over  the country, resulting in massive scale death, suffering and displacement of his own people, said that Nelson Mandela’s  life was an inspiration to freedom and a lesson to tyrants!

“It is with great pain and sorrow that the Republic of Belarus learned the news of the death of former President of the Republic of South Africa, the legendary fighter for freedom, equality and human rights Nelson Mandela. His commitment to the ideals of justice and humanity, the unique wisdom of a statesman will always be an example to politicians around the world,” How much of an example it was to President Lukushenko needs no elaboration.
This brings me finally to our own President’s message, which was, as is to be expected, a very long and rambling message of 6 paragraphs. (I will for the purposes of this article leave out his message as the Chair in Office of the  Commonwealth.)

Like that of Kim Yong Nam and Syria’s Assad the message  is  paradoxical, but if one is discerning enough, one could also see a  Machiavellian side to the message.

His message starts off by referring to  Mr Nelson Mandela as the “great leader of the struggle for freedom and a hero to millions around the world.” He goes on to say “that the late leader inspired the South African people with patriotism by courageously leading them to achieve independence with ethnic harmony”.  Since the passing away of Mr Nelson Mandela, I have been reading many reviews of his life, watching several TV programmes portraying his achievements  and reading the hundreds of tributes paid to this great statesman. Nowhere did I find a reference to his inspiring his people with patriotism. As an erudite lawyer, and a person who fought tirelessly for justice, he would have been aware of Samuel Johnson’s pronouncement that “Patriotism is the last refuge  of a scoundrel.” Further more the struggle in South Africa was an internal struggle against apartheid and patriotism had no part in it.  Therefore, why did the President’s message allude to “patriotism” and its  link to the “achievement of independence with ethnic harmony”, instead of the pillars of Nelson Mandela’s legacy to his people – “truth, reconciliation and justice.”? This is exactly where President Rajapakse failed due to a lack of vision, poor statesmanship and unscrupulousness, hence the Machiavellain twist to his message to justify this failed approach. Siezing the solemnity and profoundness of the moment the mesage was  also targeted to the people of Sri Lanka in the hope that it would acquire authenticity by association.

The other part of his message was pure hypocritical rhetoric: “the legacy of peace the late President Mandela established, and the philosophy of life he exemplified have been a great inspiration for those of us in Sri Lanka who, for many years strived for peace”.  The degree of hypocrisy was exacerbated by the personal note: “His life and philosophy have deeply inspired me and I consider President Mandela’s demise  a great loss to me personally”  The culture of impunity, the absence of the rule of law, the corruption , the nepotism, the enactment of the 18th amendment, the impeachment of the Chief Justice, entrenching militarized rule in the North and East and failing to provide peace, reconciliation and justice to the Tamil people, under his Presidency,  do not reflect his having been deeply inspired by the great Nelson Mandela.

On a note of hope I would like to conclude with excerpts of the message of Barack Obama: “Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings – and countries – can change for the better.” This is your cue Mr. President – make that change for the better. You will then earn the right to bask in Mandela’s glory and earn the kudos of the world.

  • A minor quibble. Nelson Mandela was a nationalist. His political party African National Congress (ANC) was a black nationalist movement and until 2008 was considered by the US a terrorist group. The US had already imposed sanctions on the white minority government, but it condemned the ANC for violent activities, such as attacking courthouses, military command headquarters etc.

    • Posted on behalf of cyberviews:

      “Appreciate the comment Sharanga, but I do not share your views. Mandela was an astute and skillful political leader. The years of incarceration also allowed him to read political situations more objectively and strategically, and in the face of the most provoking apartheid excesses, he was able to contain the black suprecmacist tendencies (even in the wake of the murder of the great and legendary black consciousness leader, Steve Biko), which may have derailed the liberation struggle. The real test came when Chris Hani was assassinated, and it was his skillful handling of that situation that gave him the moral upper hand in the subsequent negotiations. While he did not shy away from taking up arms as a last resort, he did not get carried away with armed violence and used it in a very strategic and tactical way. He did not approve of the antics of Winnie Mandela’s United Football Club and their terror tactics. He knew he needed the backing of the powerful countries of the world who did not want the status quo changed, hence he played his cards carefully and pragmatically.”

      • Sharanga Ratnayake

        Cyberviews, none of that is disputed. Like you, I have a great respect for the man. He was a visionary politician like Lincoln. I also don’t think he was a terrorist, whatever the CIA thought. They didn’t use terror as a military tactic. They didn’t deliberately attack civilians. But you cannot say patriotism had nothing to do with his politics. He was clearly a nationalist, and nationalism is patriotism’s political expression. What I think is, even if you really aren’t much of a patriot, you’d still need to use those kinds of tribal feelings of others to get them to physically attack something or someone at a large scale. Something like “freedom for human kind” would not work. These guys weren’t fighting for the betterment of human kind, although they might have done that too. They wanted their country back.

  • Yaa Boama, Accra, Ghana

    Rest in total peace. I thank God for giving you us and showing us, through you, what is possible. I thank you for your personal sacrifice. You shared yourself with the world, and we will never let you be forgotten.

  • Dutugamunu

    To Saranga

    I see your point has extended meanings but how come betterment for human kind develop when he already has lost the freedom for human kind . I suppose the freedom for man kind is one of very step for betterment for human kind , this is how I see it , we must consider this situation to a particular period , where he raised a world that whole Africa was robbed by invaders , and he was one of person who realised the robbery and determined to do some thing , there are may be plenty of them about the robbery but not many understood how should with robberies and rescue their people from the plights they faced ., therefore I believe his commitment toward African continent was enormous and it is a betterment for the human kind , he geared up people and revolted against the invaders to save their lands , if it isn’t toward human kind whom it for ?

  • Dutugamunu

    The ground view idea is correct to my point of view regarding Mandela ‘ political movement . He was very wise to manage the way it turned. I also believe he knew how powerful the whites and the whites had a good back from others . After carefully considering to the grounds that I believe he cleverly handle the people . It could have not been his choice but he had been to .if you look at china today , they are still try to keep the fundamental concept of communism but in real life is it not , the reason that western world is powerful to harm them politically and economically , however, their spirit is base on the communism but as they wisely chanced into the flow they are very successful today . Russia lost his unity due to the western power , but they too struggling to rebuild what they believe .so, there are enough example around the world to know how things work and how we can handle things accordingly .some people complain about Mandela that he did not do enough to his people , I thing he did what he can and the rest of people must do what they should ,because one man cannot do every thing .