In spite of the five years that elapsed since his passing, Nelson Madiba Mandela continues to be a person whose philosophies of racial equality and harmony provide an ideal for mankind to emulate.
This was the emergent theme last night when a cross-section of Barbadians from Government ministers to artistes, university lecturers and students, and other interested persons gathered in Lecture Theatre 1 of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Roy Marshall Teaching Complex to celebrate what would have been Mandela’s 100th birthday.
Percussion African drumming, song, poetry, recitations and speeches flowed in tribute to this man who lived a life in the extremes, dominated by a fight for freedom of his people; who endured 27 years of mostly isolated imprisonment; and who finally became a symbol to the world of forgiveness and hope.
Cave Hill Principal Professor Eudine Barriteau spoke of him as “this African King who was the towering conscience of the 20th century… his incarceration remains the defining sacrifice by which many who oppose modern day racial, religious, political, and other oppressions measure their own suffering”.
“While his life demonstrated the use of leadership for the power of good, it was Mandela’s preparation for that life of leadership which holds exceptional significance for us within the academy,” she said.
In its message, the UN Secretary General’s office noted that this man “gave 67 years of his life to bring change to the people of South Africa… His sacrifice not only served the people of his nation but made the world a better place for everyone”.
Artiste Margaret Gill read Kamau Brathwaite’s ‘Oriki for Nelson Mandela’ and recalled that when Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, the Women’s Forum of Barbados wrote telling him what they wanted done but made it clear, “our expectations are not challenges”.
UWI student Shacody Baker spent just over six minutes flawlessly reciting an excerpt of Mandela’s April 20, 1964 statement from the dock as the defendant at the Rivonia Trial.
The youngster ended with the great man’s statement: “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons 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.”
Social activist and newly appointed CARICOM Ambassador David Comissiong noted that Mandela’s statement – now admired across the world – came at a time when the great man was battling for his life but was also willing to lay it down for the cause.
“When he took part in that Rivonia trial and he made that stirring statement that he is prepared to give his life for these ideals, he was facing a death sentence, not imprisonment,” Comissiong said, pointing out that Mandela’s sentence was converted to life imprisonment only because the Apartheid authorities feared a societal explosion if he was executed.
“We lionized Mandela because he was this champion of black dignity and freedom, this uncompromising fighter for our freedom; this man who was prepared to give his life.”
Though an admirer, the Mandela Commission for Pan African Affairs Director Deryck Murray confessed to being incapable of rendering forgiveness to those who previously harmed him and the people as Mandela has done.
“I must confess that I haven’t found the generosity and the reservoir of goodwill in human nature to so quickly trust and forgive someone who would have done the most vicious and terrible things to an entire people,” Murray said.