Thursday, 12 December 2013

Obituary: Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

I met a few Africans when I studied in California for 6 years. My first roommate was a Black American girl aged 23 (I was 17). I also liked US history, knew a bit about Abraham Lincoln, the US Civil War and the Alamo. But it was cotton fields and slavery that caught my attention. Slavery was covered in my US History class and US Political Science class, which were compulsory classes for graduation. At the time, I never knew that the African slaves brought onto US soil were Muslims. It was only when Malaysia did a TV documentary for a Malay man who wanted to learn Black American music to match our musical style, that I learned of the African Muslim slaves in USA.

I remember Nelson Mandela from my school days, university days, and when I first started working. I wasn't interested in African politics but I was interested in African live, culture, and cuisine. At the time I came to know about Nelson Mandela and African politics, the movie Roots was playing on Malaysian TV. Our family enjoyed that movie and its re-runs. My father even mimicked some of the dialogues of its main actor, Alex Hailey. At one point, I thought he could be Alex Hailey's double!

I was most attracted to Robben Island, something that brings back memories of English literature when I was in Form 3, and we read the book, The Black Tulip. I have never seen a live black tulip. There was a visit to the university by a South African ex-prisoner, a Muslim and a Hafiz, who was also at Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. It was through him that I learned about life as a prisoner at Robben Island. What amazes me more is the undying spirit of the African prisoners. This African Muslim prisoner became a Hafiz while in prison. He had nothing else to do and studied the Quran and memorised it, from cover to cover, for the 17 years he spent at Robben Island. He met Nelson Mandela while at Robben Island. I wrote a book about Robben Island prisoners from my research and before I met the African Hafiz. It was a good meeting and I didn't feel I was talking to a former prisoner. Now that it is Nelson Mandela's funeral, memories return and I have to find my previous notes so I remember the old stories of Robben Island.

I checked the postings in my Facebook and a few websites on Nelson Mandela. I stumbled on the BBC News Hausa website. I browsed the Hausa web pages, and to my surprise, there were many words similar to Malay and Arabic - words like Zahara, Allah, shukur, Thiembikile, etc. They may have different meanings though in Hausa.

Nelson Mandela is special in that he struggled very hard in what he believed in and succeeded. His achievements are remarkable from a political standpoint. It is amazing what a man can do for his people and nation - he abolished apartheid. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk. I'm most touched by his rhetoric and statements or quotes. We ought to remember him as a hero who stood for justice for all peoples, black and white.