On Nelson Mandela International Day, we remember his 67-year struggle against apartheid, for social justice and for a free and democratic country.
IN November 2009 the United Nations General Assembly, during its 64th Session, adopted a resolution to designate July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day to honour the late South African president.
I was already the Malaysian High Commissioner to South Africa then, but was in New York as part of the Malaysian delegation to attend this annual assembly.
To celebrate Mandela Day yesterday, people around the world were encouraged to devote 67 minutes of their time to community service to honour the 67 long years – one minute for every year of Mandela’s public service – that Mandela had spent fighting against apartheid, for social justice and for a free and democratic country.
I vividly remember the day (as we were busy preparing to have a State Visit by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to South Africa, which then had to be cancelled) when President Jacob Zuma announced that Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba, had died in the late evening on December 5, 2013, at the age of 95.
The late Mandela had been suffering from pneumonia and prolonged respiratory infection. Zuma also announced a national mourning period of 10 days.
Malaysia was well represented at the memorial service and the funeral, reflecting the close relations between the two countries.
Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, Minister of the Federal Territories and Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Johnity Ongkili, Minister of Energy, Green Technology and Water represented the Government at the memorial service held at Soweto’s World Cup stadium in Johannesburg – ironically the last place of his brief public appearance during the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa – while Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia, paid his last respects in Pretoria where Mandela’s body lay in state.
The international list of those attending the memorial service and the funeral for Nelson Mandela comprised dignitaries ranging from heads of states and government to those in business sectors, the music and fashion industries.
Dignitaries also flew to Qunu, a village in Eastern Cape province where he grew up and which was to be his final resting place, to attend the funeral.
I never had the opportunity to meet Mandela personally but the attendance at the memorial services and the funeral are testimonies of the utmost respect and high regard South Africans and the international community at large have for him.
For a man who was imprisoned and incarcerated for 27 years, including being held at the maximum security prison at Robben Island where he did hard labour at the lime quarry, Mandela did not take vengeance on his captors when he was elected as the first President of a democratic South Africa in 1994.
Instead, his message was of forgiveness, of reconciliation and not vengeance.
For South Africa, a country known as a rainbow nation that is diverse in its ethnic and racial makeup, Mandela was not only a symbol of resistance against apartheid but also the unifying and reconciliating force for South Africans who had been segregated based on the colour of their skins during that era.
Internationally, South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane once described Mandela as an international icon and a symbol of hope for oppressed and marginalised people across the globe, and said that he will always be remembered for his values and dedication to the service of humanity in the fields of conflict resolution, reconciliation, the promotion and protection of the rights of children, gender equality and the uplifting of the poor.
Indeed, in my meetings with the ministers, government officials and private citizens of South Africa as well as those from other countries in the region that I visited, the late Mandela was held in the highest esteem.
He became a symbol and benchmark for citizens of other countries in the region to gauge their own leaders.
Nelson Mandela – Madiba – is gone. But his legacy remains. He will be remembered for his many contributions to promoting peace; as an activist who was fearless in his struggle against apartheid; and as a beacon of hope for those struggling for equality and justice.
Currently Malaysia’s Ambassador to Spain, Kennedy Jawan was High Commissioner to South Africa from December 2008 to 2013, when he was concurrently accredited to Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Madagascar. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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