Mandela: No to second term

Published March 18, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Diwa C. Guinigundo


Three years ago, Yubal Noah Harari released his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Harari wrote on contemporary affairs and future of human societies. He observed the overwhelming victory of liberal democracy at the end of the 20th century against fascism and communism.

Issues like democratic politics, human rights and free-market capitalism took center stage only to be marginalized at a time when the twin revolutions in information technology and biotechnology were making in roads and posing   serious challenges to freedom and equality. With social alienation, populism and authoritarianism gained ground.

Corporates and entrepreneurs found new sources of wealth and influence. Harari suggested that it is important for social scientists to interpret with clarity what is happening before our eyes.

What is most interesting to us is the fourth part of his book. Harari asked us whether we could still discern between wrongdoing and justice, authority and authoritarianism, popularity and dictatorship. What separates reality from make-believe?

Harari is obviously familiar with behavioral economics because he warned that it is not always easy to trust in an individual’s rationality. A rational individual could turn out to be hopelessly chauvinistic. He could be driven more by black emotion and dangerous heuristic shortcuts more fit for the past than for the future.

He also dismissed the idea of individual thinking. Group think is more like it. A politician, for instance, could be influenced by people around him. This is not necessarily bad except that when the politician is at the peak of his power and popularity, the blackhole of power sets in. That blackhole “warps the very space around it.”

What is wrong with that?

Harari explained that people around those with power would try to flatter them, appease them or extract something from them. With little time to engage, these people would “end up mouthing empty slogans or the great clichés of all.”

This is how discernment is impaired.

But there are exceptions. Nelson Mandela was certainly one of them. Born in 1918 in South Africa during the time of great racial discrimination against the black population, he nurtured tales of courage of his ancestors against white supremacy. He also dreamed of liberating his people by working against apartheid.

Mandela was arrested, imprisoned and released many times under the Suppression of Communism Act. Convicted of sabotage, he was condemned to life. He became the rallying figure of the African National Congress (ANC) and the whole of South Africa. He refused offers of conditional freedom. The cause of his country’s vision of freedom was too precious for him.

Mandela’s own vision was captured in his 1964 speech. He clarified that he fought against white and black domination alike. He cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve… it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela endured solitary confinement and torture. He developed prostate cancer and tuberculosis. But his discernment was never impaired by harassment, torture or sickness.

From prison, he became president of ANC. He worked hard for a transition to one-man, one-vote election for three years, punctuated with massacres of black leaders and supporters. For ending apartheid, Mandela was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with then South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk.

One year later, Mandela was elected South Africa’s first democratically-elected President.

In his 1994 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela found excitement participating  in People’s Forums which he called parliaments of the people. It was easy for Mandela to appeal for votes given his long years of fighting for freedom and transition to democracy. He opted instead to offer them a vision of the future.

This vision found expression in ANC’s 150-page Reconstruction and Development Program outlining Mandela’s plan to create jobs; build a million new houses with electricity and flush toilets; establish primary health care; offer ten years of free education; redistribute land; and reform the tax system. This document was compressed into a simple manifesto “A Better Life for All.”

Mandela appealed to white South Africans to remain in South Africa. Apartheid was a cruel past but harmony of races promised a better future.

Mandela did not succumb to people around him. He led by his mind, guided by his heart. He cautioned South Africans against expecting quick results after the election. Nation building was a long process and a community effort. He stood behind one single result: “you will have increased your self-esteem and become a citizen in your own land.”

No, Mandela was not a saint canonized in Rome. In the book The Spiritual Mandela by Dennis Cruywagen, Mandela was quoted saying “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

But Mandela was certainly a statesman and a patriot. Even at the peak of his power and popularity around the globe, Mandela refused to allow the blackhole of power to warp the very space around him.

As proof, Mandela pledged never to run for a second term to give way to new generation of leaders. Unlike many politicians today, he honored his word.