This planet will never see his like again. Tempting though it might be to compare Nelson Mandela with inspirational giants of yesteryear ~ Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King being among obvious names ~ it must be remembered that true greatness can never be slotted, or bracketed. Each colossus blessed with superhuman qualities had a uniqueness, and Mandela was endowed with that in rare abundance. To have experienced so much, suffered so much, and to still prove himself the epitome of grace, goodwill, peace ~ and above all, forgiveness ~ raises him to spiritual dimensions. Having lived through more storms and darkness than any man deserved to be condemned to, and still emerge like the rainbow of hope and, perhaps even joy, means that his country, his people, and indeed humanity at large has been orphaned with his passing. Elsewhere in these columns will be detailed the highs and lows of his multi-dimensional career, the injustices and physical deprivation during 27 years in prison: this commentary, in all humility, serves as The Statesman&’s tribute to a man who really needs little written or verbal adulation. He does however “command” that his example be emulated ~ else there will be much hypocrisy to the lavish praise that all quarters will shower upon him.
Any attempt to list his accomplishments and attributes would surely be incomplete; what needs to be emphasised is that despite all his singular attainments Nelson Mandela was ever human: never detached from his fellow beings, to whom the folk in slums of Soweto were as valued as the kings, Presidents etc at whose high table he came to dine. His family ~ and he went through trials aplenty on the personal front too ~ was never far from the core of his existence. There was never need for him to contrive connection with the masses, he was simply part of them. Lesser leaders make much of turning up at carnivals, dressing informally and what have you. When Madiba went to a rugby game he was essentially part of the crowd, welcomed as just another devoted fan. What more could anyone want? Incarceration in sub-human conditions impacted Mandela&’s health, yet he found the strength and energy to lead his people and country to new horizons. And his job done, he departed the public stage with characteristic dignity: yes, the last few months were uncomfortable but having lived 95 years to the full he went to his rest with satisfaction at having given of his ultimate best.
Though inevitable, actually expected, his passing evoked grief, emotion and despair. For there is so much more that needs be done to fulfil the dream. A dream not limited to the Republic of South Africa, nor just the troubled African continent ~ every corner of the earth had been impacted by his magic. A self-effacing man, despite a mystical smile, Nelson Mandela would desire no traditional memorials and so on. The only way in which he would wish to be honoured would be furtherance of the ideals he pursued with fortitude ~ and delight.
War crimes in Syria
The UN Human Rights Commission has achieved what the Security Council couldn’t. Unlike the bumbling in the face of opposition by China and Russia, the UNHRC, pre-eminently its leader, Navi Pillai, has for the first time established a link between Bashar al-Assad and war crimes. The indictment comes in the aftermath of the chemical gas attack that killed upwards of 1000 people; it is a diplomatic riddle that the UN inspectors’ report is none too explicit. Monday&’s bombshell in Geneva, the commission headquarters, is not a hypothetical assumption, still less a subjective reflection. The data furnished by Ms Pillai is embedded in “massive” empirical evidence collected by the commission&’s panel of investigators. Significant too is the time-span of the investigation; it covers the 33 months of the seemingly relentless conflict. Unlike in the wake of the sarin attack, which was greeted with a stout denial by the presidential palace in Damascus, there has been no response yet to the UNHRC report. “They point to the fact that the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state,” is Ms Pillai&’s blunt assessment. Critically no less, the panel also found Syrian opposition groups implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity, although on a lesser scale.
It is an open question whether those involved will ever be brought to justice; the imperative of Western intervention after the chemical gas offensive has already caused a flutter in the diplomatic roost, not least in Britain where Prime Minister David Cameron had to backtrack in the face of opposition to intervention within the House of Commons. The commission has studiously avoided identifying either the individuals or even the number of names on their lists, which itself would suggest that the survey has been fairly incisive. Though the Western powers have been amazingly muted in their response, the situation in Syria can well be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague and accountability fixed; indeed, accountability ought to be the key priority of the international community. The report has been remarkably timed, ahead of the Geneva-2 talks in January, indeed the second international conference on Syria. Prima facie, it appears that the repression has been no less hideous than what had obtained in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Kosovo in the late 1990s. These places had existed on the map till massacres and human rights abuses on a horrendous scale stirred the international conscience. In another part of the world, ethnic cleansing has given way to war crimes against the country&’s people.