Fb. In. Tw.

Mandela joined the ancestors


South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has died. Mr Mandela, 95, led South Africa’s transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison. I remember being in Cameroon, West Africa when Nelson Mandela was liberated. 

On Feb. 11, 1990, Nel­son Man­dela, icon of resis­tance to the South-Afri­can apart­heid regime and later peace Nobel lau­reate, was released from pri­son after 27 years. This was a truly moving moment for Afri­cans, so aff­lic­ted for so long, and a signal for a new era of peace­ful oppo­si­tion to sup­pres­sion and war – an unfor­get­ta­ble expe­ri­ence that made a huge impres­sion on me as a young black man from Cameroon.

In my home coun­try Cameroon, we had just got­ten used to tele­vi­sion in those days 22 years ago, and live-broad­casts were rare. But our eyes were fixed to the screens on that Feb. 11, to the few black and white TVs avail­able. Toge­ther with thousands others around the globe, we became wit­nes­ses as, after cea­se­l­ess pres­sure from wit­hin South Africa and abroad, Man­dela was finally set free

The Afri­can con­ti­nent was in poli­ti­cal tur­moil, as across the con­ti­nent men and women of all ages and all social stra­tums joined the rebel­lion, tired of the degra­da­tion and humi­lia­tion, fed up with their neo-colo­nial rulers who wal­ked free with a cyni­cal smile. People had had enough of the vio­lence, which rob­bed them of their free­dom and took away the joy of life.

From Dakar in Sene­gal to Dar Es-Salam in Tanza­nia, from South Afri­can Cape Town to Alge­rian Algiers, as in Nai­robi in Kenya and Douala in Cameroon – people from all parts of Africa took to the streets to pro­test. Mil­li­ons of stu­dents, lawy­ers, NGOs, trade unio­nists, women, intel­lec­tu­als, for­mer exi­led poli­ti­ci­ans… They defied the mili­tary and poli­ti­cal ter­ror, police and cor­rupt bureaucra­tic admi­nis­tra­tion, to say “no:” No to dic­ta­tors and no to lies.

Those were the fee­lings that Afri­can people shared during those days – for us, Feb. 11, 1990, was the most beau­ti­ful day of our lives. Finally, Man­dela was again among us. The ‘Afri­can family’ was com­plete and ready to face new chal­len­ges.

The youn­ger gene­ra­tion of the 1990s cle­arly remem­bers Man­dela’s hair­cut. We were impres­sed with the finely shaved line in the middle of the scull, which quickly became the fashion in Cameroon.

With the name Man­dela, we also asso­cia­ted the pic­ture of Win­nie, his wife and brave com­pa­nion, who had car­ried on his fight against apart­heid during his long years in pri­son, who was fea­red by the poli­ti­cal elite of South-Africa and a sym­bol of strong Afri­can women.

Man­dela was without any doubt the per­so­ni­fi­ca­tion of a reso­lute man figh­ting apart­heid; unrelen­ting in his aims, never­the­l­ess sup­por­tive towards his com­pa­ni­ons at home and abroad. But could he still, after 27 years impri­son­ment, stand up to the power­ful ‘white’ elite, as he had done in his youth?

For us young Afri­cans, Man­dela was some­thing like the last sur­vi­ving Foun­ding Father, the last of a gene­ra­tion of war­ri­ors who had dedi­ca­ted their lives to Afri­can inde­pen­dence. He was a tan­gi­ble mani­fest focal point of ideas that endu­red from the vio­lent 1950s until today, that moti­va­ted many of the Afri­can lea­ders, of people  who by ris­king their own lives, had inspi­red the fight for the libe­ra­tion of Africa.

Howe­ver, many Afri­can lea­ders, like Amil­car Cabral (1924 – 1973) of Gui­nea Bissau, Patrice Lumumba of Congo (1925 – 1961) or Ruben Um Nyobe (1913 – 1958) had not sur­vi­ved, and had been assas­si­na­ted by colo­nial powers. That Man­dela was still alive, and would again be among us, see­med like a mira­cle. With hiss release, we were able to begin hoping again.

On that memo­ra­ble Feb. 11, 1990 in our living room, dozens of eyes were glued to the small black & white tele­vi­sion screen that sud­denly had become the umbi­li­cal cord of our world. This TV screen had repla­ced the radio as prime medium in Africa: We wan­ted to see Man­dela, the sym­bol of Afri­can fight for free­dom!

Accom­pa­nied by his wife Win­nie, he rai­sed his fist as a sign of vic­tory. So much time had pas­sed: His face was covered with wrin­k­les, the hair white – in Africa a sym­bol for wis­dom. Man­dela see­med tired. Howe­ver, the firm tone of his voice, the decisive words, were the same. We were wit­nes­sing Man­dela as we remem­be­red him, and we full-hear­tedly wis­hed to be part of the ecsta­tic crowd chee­ring our hero on his way to free­dom.

The next day, Man­dela spoke at the Town Hall of Cape Town:

“I stand here before you not as a pro­phet, but as a hum­ble ser­vant of you, the people,” he cal­led out, in rin­ging tones. “Your tire­less and heroic sacri­fices have made it pos­si­ble for me to be here today. I the­re­fore place the remai­ning years of my life into your hands.”

You went back to the meet the ancestors. Those who come from Nubia, Those who built the giants Pyramids, Those who fought against injustice on the continent. Thank You Nelson Mandela. We will continue your struggle…Like Birago Diop wrote:

Like the senegalese poet Birago Diop wrote:

(…) „The dead are never gone. They are in the shadows. The dead are not in earth. They’re in the rustling tree, the groaning wood, water that runs, water that sleeps, they’re in the hut, in the crowd, the dead are not dead.“ (…)

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