By Arun Gandhi
As the world mourns the death of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, affectionately known as Madiba, it is important that we don’t get too embroiled in sentiments and, in our grief, make the mistake of consecrating his message with his physical body. Like the thousands whom we revere as great people, Madiba was not great by birth, but became great through commitment and dedication to moral values. All of us are endowed with the same measure of commitment and dedication but we tend to use it more for material aggrandizement rather than to enhance our moral and ethical values.
An Indian Government official reportedly said in his condolence message that if the apartheid government had not incarcerated President Mandela for 27 years he would have changed the face of Africa long ago. Implying that those 27 years were wasted. Perhaps some of those years were excessive, but there is no escaping the fact that it was the incarceration that gave Madiba the opportunity to do some soul-searching and turned him from a revolutionary to a revered leader.
Through his life Madiba showed the world that adversity can be good if we use it with understanding. Many a leader who have gone through the same kind of adversity as President Mandela has come out more bitter and violent than ever because they wallow in self-pity. Madiba and others like him used adversity to make a positive change in themselves and their thinking. In a very true sense Madiba became the change he wished to see in the world, to use Gandhi’s famous quotation.
Madiba loved his country more than he loved himself. He was determined to do what was right and good for the country and not be filled with hate and vengeance against those who oppressed him. He had a vision for South Africa where all human beings could live in peace and harmony. It was a vision that has been shared by many leaders of the world, including Gandhi, but it is a vision that has not been realized quite simply because we have chosen the path of materialism rather than moral values. Gandhi warned us that materialism and morality have an inverse relationship. When one increases the other tends to decrease. In a highly materialistic world there is ample evidence today of declining morality. In fact the decay is so overwhelming that it denigrates the very concept of civilization. Is a civilization measured by its material achievements or by its moral integrity? If Madiba could change from being a revolutionary to becoming a revered world leader can we not change from being selfish to being selfless in the service of the world?