HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsMadiba’s hero status was never conferred, but earned

Madiba’s hero status was never conferred, but earned


I sat there in Qunu in the serene atmosphere of the Eastern Cape as the world bade goodbye to one of the greatest icons ever to grace Earth.

While I had signed the condolence book and attended the memorial service in Harare, I felt that was not enough to match the magnitude of Nelson Mandela’s impact on democratic struggles not only in Africa, but in the world.


I felt it was only befitting that I pay my last respects and witness this great man being laid to rest in his own village, among his people.

That is why I left Zimbabwe on Saturday morning to be with many others, including his family and colleagues in the struggle, on this sad moment for the world.

As they buried him in his village, away from the splendor of the cities and towns, it dawned on me that true hero status is not conferred. True hero status is earned and never conferred.

We may sit as a motley group in our puny political entities, claiming that we are “giving” or “conferring” hero status on individuals, but Madiba’s example is that people earn their hero status in their lifetime through the work they do for their communities and their countries. Hero status is too great to be conferred posthumously by a group of individuals in a boardroom.

Heroism pronounces itself through the work individuals do for the people and the impact of that work can neither be furthered nor diminished by anyone. In 2007, I spent one of the most fruitful two hours of my life in a frank discussion with Madiba over the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe to which he pledged to play his part in making the leadership of this country “see sense”.

Unfortunately, his health deteriorated before executing his pledge. Throughout his life, he was not only preoccupied with the pursuit of liberation and freedom in South Africa, but in the rest of humankind and he was clearly touched by how those who had started on a promising note had now disappointed the millions in Zimbabwe.

It is sad that he has been laid to rest with our country in a sorrier state especially after the stolen vote of July 2013. Mandela was the only evidence among many of Africa’s old statesmen that indeed age comes with wisdom.

The evidence some of us have had to brave in our own countries is that sometimes age comes alone, without any iota of wisdom and unaccompanied by any shred of statecraft or competence.

Madiba’s legacy transcended race, tribe and nationality. It remains a rich legacy for the entirety of humankind. He left a legacy of true nation-building and the rainbow nation was a great attempt at creating a multi-racial and a multi-ethnic society. We have to live together despite our differences and that is why the Madiba moment inspired the rest of the world. For us in the MDC, he taught us the sanctity of unarmed combat as an effective means of fighting oppression.

Yes, it is possible to fight repression and oppression with nothing, but your bare hands as long as you carry with you the unstinting belief that your struggle is just. For many decades, Mandela fought oppression and the sceptics thought a free South Africa would not come, but it eventually did in 1994.

So too do we have sceptics in Zimbabwe who think that a mere 14 years of the democratic struggle has been too long a time and the MDC is now dead and buried because democratic change has not been achieved since we formed this great party in 1999.

If Madiba was of the same sceptical mind, he would have quit the struggle in the 1940s and 1950s, but he persevered and democracy came within his lifetime in 1994. The ANC was formed in 1912, but democracy was achieved after 82 years. So the MDC is still on course, and in our case, change will come far much earlier and we will definitely achieve it in our lifetime.

Some may perish along the way, but those who remain will continue with the struggle until democracy is achieved in Zimbabwe. Madiba taught us that no matter how long it takes, the struggle will have to continue until positive change is achieved.

The lesson is that we may stumble upon some impediments and frustrations in the pursuit of a national dream, but no impediment should be allowed to derail the collective aspirations of a determined people. And I know Zimbabweans are a determined people.

I left Qunu on Sunday afternoon, not with any sense of mourning whatsoever, but with a sense of celebration of Madiba’s legacy and the lessons we draw from his tenacity and resolve to fight for the true liberation of an oppressed people.

That such a great revolutionary came from a remote village in Qunu is enough inspiration to many Africans in remote villages on our great continent. We learn that greatness has no relationship to background or place of origin.

Greatness lies in us as individuals and not in our backgrounds or the places we come from.

Madiba may have died, but we in the MDC will retain the same unstinting commitment to fight for change, freedom and democracy in the country of our birth.
It is a daunting challenge that he leaves us but yes, the change that the people want will be achieved in Zimbabwe.

At a personal level, I have lost an inspiring figure. Madiba, you leave us a daunting task, but we pledge to continue with the fight against repression until positive change is achieved. May your life and your rich legacy continue to inspire the world.

Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is the President of the Movement for Democratic Change

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