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Happy Birthday Madiba
|by Dr. Amitabh Mitra|
"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds that there are many more hills to climb." ' Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela turned 90 on July 18, 2008. The whole world erupted in a raucous celebration that will continue till the end of this year. "Our focus is on 'a celebration of ideas', and while there will be shows and musical events, they too are aimed assisting our ongoing work in social justice work started by Madiba and the perpetuation of his ideals of freedom, non-racism and gender equality," the Nelson Mandela Foundation said in a recent statement.
The following is the press release of programmes being held world wide.
I am proud of the fact that I came from a country that had Gandhi and live in a country that has Mandela. My obsession with Nelson Mandela and the ANC goes back to 1973 when I participated with many others in the Gwalior Fair in India collecting signatures to free Mandela from the notorious Robben Island. A tiny gesture which must have been shared by millions of people like me from around the globe but it was the firebrand zeal of my teenage years embracing the left ideology that I enjoyed most, explaining to rural Indian people about Mandela and his movement while collecting their signatures.
During the same time, I became closely associated with Mossie Moolah, the African National Congress (ANC) Chief Representative in New Delhi and the communist movement in India. The cramped upstairs office at the Bhagat Singh Market then has given way now to a luxurious diplomatic mission in South Delhi. India was the first nation to recognize the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organization and elevate them to Diplomatic status. I remember The Pan African Congress (PAC) being disallowed by the then Indian Government to open its offices in New Delhi.
I came to Umtata in the former Transkei in 1991, travelling in a more or less clandestine manner. My Indian passport was stamped with 'Not for travel to South Africa', yet I remained exhilarated the most when the tiny Transkei Airways plane finally landed in a not so tiny airport of Umtata. At last I was on the South African soil. Apartheid was still there and we had to take permission from the so called authorities before leaving the African homeland and enter white South Africa for shopping or just for a stroll in the beach. Obviously we had to go to the sectors of Non White Beach. At times I just couldn't control my laughter at all these antics but I have only arrived recently. To think of all those who have suffered humiliation for generations is itself a torture.
General Bantu Holomisa, a soft spoken army officer was the president of the former Transkei. He took special care of all the professionals that were recruited during his time. An easily accessible person he listened to any discontent from his fellow Transkeians and sorted them out immediately. The people of Transkei loved him dearly and elected him to the national parliament after Transkei ceased to exist. At present he is the leader of the United Democratic Party (UDM) and sits on the opposition benches in the parliament.
Nelson Mandela was released and the African National Congress went for a victorious mandate to form the government of a new South Africa. I remember that evening of the victory when even the late Joe Slovo was dancing with elected members of the parliament. Joe was diagnosed with cancer and was already very weak finally succumbing later to the deadly disease. Nelson Mandela's jive became world famous, as are his lectures on freedom and democracy. This year he remarked that all these famous Nobel Prize winners come every year at his birthday to see that how this old man looks at this age.
Many years back, my friend, Balai Basu came to visit me in Umtata. He was an engineer at Chigutu in Zimbabwe. I have known him from my days in Zimbabwe where I use to work at the Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo. Balai da and his wife, my bowdi had come from Zimbabwe to see the new South Africa. One fine morning, having known from the Daily Dispatch that the President, Mr. Mandela would be spending the weekend at Qunu, he insisted that I should accompany him and his wife to visit the President. I was shocked at this preposterous idea of visiting the state President as if I was visiting an old friend. I refused point blank explaining to him that it is impossible to meet the President even from our own country, India. 'I have heard of Mr. Mandela's generosity and I am sure he wont mind me seeing him, he is not like other Presidents' he remarked. So off they went to Qunu without me, asking local people the way to Mr. Mandela's house. I was in tenterhooks as they had not come back even after five hours. I was relieved to see them driving back without a police van in attendance and with a smile that stretched to a mile.
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