Thursday, 7 July 2016

South Africa: 40 years after Soweto uprising

South Africa: 40 years after Soweto uprising: By Denja Yaqub It has been forty years since protesting students were murdered in their youth by armed apartheid policemen in Soweto, a popular township near Johannesburg, South Africa during the a…

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


                   By Denja Yaqub

Over ninety days since young school girls were abducted from their school; Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, north east Nigeria on April 14 2014, no success has been glaring on efforts to rescue the girls despite global outrage and promises by foreign governments, including global powers such as the United States, to get the girls out of captivity.

Indeed, a former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted in recent media reports to have said the failure of the Nigerian security forces to rescue the girls almost instantly after their abduction was because they never got directives to take such action since the Presidency didn't believe the girls were truly seized until the massive global condemnation, two weeks after.

Some organisations, including trade unions, the news media, political parties and outspoken individuals within and outside Nigeria have been loud in demanding for the safe rescue of these girls. Indeed, some organisations formed the BringBackOurGirls Coalition to sustain daily picket at the Millenium Park in Abuja. Mass protests have been held in Lagos by civil society organisations. The Nigeria Union of Teachers have had protest rallies across the country.

But instructively, these protests, especially the ones held in Abuja faced attacks from security agencies; the police whose commissioner in charge of its Federal Capital Territory Command, Joseph Mbu, addressed a press conference to announce a ban on public protests within the territory. Although his order was immediately disowned by the police headquarters while the organisers of the protests are in court to seek judicial coverage, it still meant a lot more that such order could have been contemplated in the first instance given the fact that a Federal High Court in Abuja, in June 2005, had given a plausible judgement declaring that the right of association and to peaceful protests in Nigeria cannot be circumscribed by anyone, including the police. This judgement was reaffirmed by the Federal Court of Appeal in September 2013.

The abduction of these girls is not just a major security breach but a scandalous exposure of our structural ineptitude to global ridicule. This is reinforced by the over politicisation of initial reactions to the incident, which were loathed with all sorts of trivialities.

Sadly, our politicians have not seen the socio economic implications of our collective security challenges, especially the ongoing violent campaigns by the notorious cannibal called Boko Haram, a group that obviously celebrates mass murder of innocent people under the false and unjustifiable claim that they operate under the auspices of Islam in propagation of its injunction for the purpose of achieving an Islamic state authority. Of course, better informed, well respected and prominent Islamic leaders, including the Sultan of Sokoto who is the spiritual head of the country's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, have authoritatively debunked the claims of these adventurers.

The initial attitude of our government to this group perhaps expose official inclination to security as an item obviously considered less important despite huge budgetary allocations, which perhaps suggest such allocations are mere conduits for other purposes other than arresting insecurity.

Statements such as "Boko Haram is a faceless group" or "may be its our turn to have suicide bombings" which are statements credited to our country's Commander in Chief and President obviously underestimated the threats, capabilities and realities of the dangers posed by the terror gang.

With the strength and efficiency of Nigeria's security agencies, as attested to by the evident competencies displayed in peace keeping activities in other countries, it is clear that given the right directions and with non partisan commitments, perhaps terrorism would have been nipped before it took the country hostage. The fact is that with these attacks, the economy of the entire country is in spider speed.

The attitude of some countries to our agony obviously underscores and also exposes our collective lacklustre preparedness to confront terror. Terror, as against other violent hostilities, is indeed a crime against humanity and cannot be fought without communal participation. And sadly, key policy makers in Nigeria seem to believe foreign countries, especially those that have been under such attacks are the ones to route terrorism out of our country. Perhaps, not so. Some of these countries have interests other than fighting terrorism. There are underlying political and economic interests.

Terrorism is the worst of guerrilla warfare because it lacks popular ideological coloration. And only popular politics or popular political leadership or put simply, pro people governments can attract effective communal involvement in the battle against terrorism, which in itself is a result of bad governance or wrong attitude by governments to public management.

Terror attacks seem more like a response to governance. And that is perhaps why people will positively respond in collective resistance in some countries and won't in some others. It is worst when a government and its security forces become befuddled with partisan views and reactions to such attacks. Obviously, this is Nigeria's dilemma. The attacks and the reactions have been politicised or even ethnicised. This is a major threat to our collective aspirations for a strong, united and well governed country.

The Chibok Girls disappearance, just like the safety of all residents, should have taken prime attention before any other consideration by any government, no matter its political affiliation. But, the truth is until our political leaders reason beyond the visionless claps of hollow political supporters, even the security agencies may be seen as aiding opposition when they do their jobs in accordance with their professional competence.

What is required to govern a country is not likely to include discriminative understanding of grave national challenges by state officials. A national challenge does not bear tribal marks or emblems of political parties. What is required is to confront the challenges as a government while the citizens react as patriots who must see their individual and collective stake in the struggle against those challenges.

What the public and particularly the parents and friends of the kidnapped girls want to hear are not statements such as "we have located the Chibok girls" as the Nigerian military was quoted to have initially announced. Or that "we are closing in on the location of the Chibok girls". No. Perhaps those empowered to rescue the girls should tell us less of the location. Go quietly and bring back the girls unharmed.

Denja Yaqub is an Assistant Secretary at the headquarters of Nigeria Labour Congress

Saturday, 12 July 2014


                            By Denja Yaqub

The first time we met was sometime in 1988 soon after his youth service under the National Youth Service Corps' compulsory programme for young graduates, which prepares them for the challenges of our society away from the infanctuations of the academic environment where dreams are generated and views of the reality of society are mostly in conflict with the facts of the decadence of our own society.

Mr. Bamidele Francis Aturu, without any organisational promptings, had just volunteered himself to the movement when he took a very courageous decision to deepen the struggle against military dictatorship in Nigeria by rejecting an award of excellence as the Best Youth Corper in Niger State, north central Nigeria in 1988. Aturu did not only reject the award, he also refused to have a handshake with the Military Governor of the State, Colonel Lawan Gwadabe. This threw Comrade Aturu up as one of the best of a generation of activists determined to change our society for the better.

The circumstance and methods adopted by Aturu in that incident could easily mistake him for an anarchist who would singularly dare the devil to make a strong point. This was an individual, acting on his own instincts but speaking on behalf of millions of Nigerians excruciatingly groaning under deepening hardships imposed on them by a very tiny club of military officers who had seized the state at gun point, mismanaging our collective resources as directed by neo liberal institutions who thought the absence of democracy in a potentially resourceful state is an opportunity to slide anti people policies down our throats.

Aturu may have acted alone in Minna, but almost immediately connected with the revolutionary community to chart a collective process for a long drawn, painstaking struggle for a society decent enough to respect everyone's rights, including the fundamental right to chose who governs us.

He became a strong member of the Socialist Congress of Nigeria, SCON; together with other comrades formed the Democratic Alternative, a front mass organisation of marxists, to mobilise Nigerians against military dictatorship. Chima Ubani, another of our finest who died in an accident during the struggle against the deregulation of the petroleum sector of the Nigerian economy was pioneer General Secretary.

From that moment, until his death at dawn on Wednesday 9th July 2014 after a very brief illness at his residence just as he was preparing to leave for the National Delegates Conference of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, at Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital; Aturu was part of several organisations and also took part in almost all protests against anti people policies, including the Structural Adjustment Programme which was sneaked in by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, during the Ibrahim Babangida military dictatorship.

He was a member of Campaign for Democracy, United Action for Democracy, Civil Liberties Organisation and actively participated in street barricades against military dictatorships.

If his action in Minna in 1988 displayed the fearlessness in him, his effective mobilizing capabilities and confrontations with armed security agents during these protests brought the undaunting courage, honesty and commitment to our collective struggle he was richly endowed with. Aturu was a man of unequalled courage.

Unknown to so many people, Aturu, the son of a police officer, was a private in the Nigerian Army. He deserted the army to give himself formal education, culminating in his legal practice.

Aturu first studied Physics at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, South West Nigeria. He decided to return to school soon after his youth service to study law at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and since completion of his law degree, which included a master degree in law, he worked with the Chamber of Professor Itse Sagay and Co. Prof. Sagay, himself another committed change agent, testified to Aturu's honesty and commitment to the struggle.

He left Prof. Sagay's chamber to establish his own with a vision to "serve the cause of social justice by effectively and competently using the law in spite of its limitations; to defend the underprivileged, the dispossesed, the oppressed and the abused against the rich and the powerful; to be a leading voice in the struggle against all forms of discrimination and undue privileges".  These are the vision and mission of his law chamber from the onset as stated on the chamber's website.

To emphasise his commitment and disposition of his law practice to serve the poor and underprivileged, he stated clearly that "in pursuit of this vision/mission, we will not accept a brief simply on account that it is lucrative or reject a poor prospective client simply on account of inability to pay, if we are convinced that he or she is truly unable to pay our fee." He made his chamber a part of the movement and accessible to the underprivileged.

His law firm is part of the legal team of the entire labour movement in Nigeria. He is an incontrovertible authority in labour laws in Nigeria and has authored several papers, articles and book on labour laws. His book, NIGERIA LABOUR LAWS, published in 2008 remain the most popular compendium referred to by academics, labour activists, lawyers and judges. Trade union organisers, popularly known as "pocket lawyers" because of their mastery of aspects of the Nigerian labour and trade union laws relating to workers rights to form and belong to trade unions, have been deeply enriched by Aturu's book and writings.

He also made a powerful presentation at the annual Kolagbodi Foundation lecture series in collaboration with the Fredrick Ebert Stiftung (Fredrick Ebert Foundation), which was published in 2010 titled: NIGERIAN LABOUR MOVEMENT AND THE MAKING OF AN AUTHENTHIC CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF NIGERIA.

Aturu had a very strong and resourceful presence at the Nigeria Labour Congress, not only as one of the leading counsels but also as external researcher and facilitator at the annual Rain and Harmattan schools organised by the Education and Training Department of NLC. He also represented NLC, Africa's largest labour centre, at the National Labour Advisory Council, a tripartite team with representatives from labour, employers and government, charged with the responsibility of reviewing labour laws.

Bamidele Aturu was a combination of high intellect, honesty, transparency, humility, purposeful energy, dependable and a committed youngman to the struggles for a better society.

His presence at a meeting during the pro democracy struggles reassured comrades of a rancour free meeting as he was always intervening on contentious issues that raised nerves among comrades. And he provided good leadership during mobilisations for mass actions against the military across the country.

He was not known to attend meetings he considered wasteful or that may not end with pro people resolutions. This is why he rejected his nomination to participate in the on going National Conference/Dialogue organised by the Federal Government to provide solutions to our national crisis, which has been deepened by lack of good governance, and corruption evidently more prevalent under the administration of the organisers of the conference. Aturu rejected his nomination knowing where the conference is destined, just like previous ones.

We all owe the likes of Bamidele Aturu. We must reunite, reorganise and renew our collective selfless commitment to the struggle to make Nigeria, and indeed humanity better. The circumstance of his passing should remind us all that only our contributions to humanity is the valiant in us. Death, as inevitable as it is do not make the worth of our living useless if people make their lives useful to the society.

Bamidele Francis Aturu, our own BF, is dead but he continues to live FOREVER in us all if we step up our capacity to organise for a better society for humanity.

Denja Yaqub is an Assistant Secretary at the headquarters of Nigeria Labour Congress and a close friend of Bamidele Aturu.

Thursday, 3 July 2014


By Denja Yaqub

The issue of violent crimes in Nigeria did not start with the advent of Boko Haram, the murderous gang that falsely claims the propagation of Islam as its underlying mission.

The country have been contending with several violent crimes before now. Crimes such as armed robbery, kidnappings, ritual killings, political assassinations, domestic violence etc have been prevalent in our dear country since independence; and indeed during years of colonialism.

That these crimes are on the increase is basically a product of lack of good governance as evident in mass unemployment, dearth of industries, corruption, disdainful display of stolen wealth and lack of cultural and moral values even in remote communities.

Until the early years of this millennium, Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Ibadan were the strongest industrial base of the Nigerian economy, apart from oil.

There were industrial layouts in these cities where active factories producing textile materials, chemicals, pharmaceutical products, cement, shoes, bags, tides and skin, plastics, food, and other necessities were bubbling with productive activities involving several millions of Nigerians youths engaged in active employment.

Apart from the layouts in Kano, Lagos, Ibadan and Port Harcourt; there were strong industrial presence in other cities such as Ilorin where Tate & Lye, Philip Morris, Coca Cola etc engaged several young Nigerians as employees. In Okpella, Edo State, there were almost 3000 workers engaged at the Bendel Cement Company. Some more at the Bendel Flour Mill at Ewu.

Kaduna was home to several textile firms, just like Ilupeju, Oba Akran, Oshodi, Ikeja were in Lagos; as well as Sherada industrial layout, Bompai etc in Kano.

There were rubber plantations in most parts of the south south as well as the South East. Enugu was booming with coal production. Plateau State blossomed with mining. Indeed, Nasarawa State, which has the highest deposit of mineral resources in Nigeria had better life when the old Plateau State existed. Nassarawa still has the largest deposit of mineral resources of global quality and commercial value at the international market.

When workers close from work in these cities, a visitor will mistake the crowd on the roads for football fans coming from the stadium after a major international match.

What has happened now is the reality of the complete shut down of these industrial layouts because the factories have either relocated to other countries or folded up completely, throwing out several millions back to the streets, unemployed.

What has now taken over industrialisation is religious fanaticism, which is more "decent" than armed robbery. While churches has become an industry that is growing faster than any other "industry", having acquired dead factory houses and converted them to churches with those thrown out of employment as members. Today, the crowd coming out of church services have outnumbered those coming from work in multitudes.

Religion as the opium of the poor has completely replaced industries and other productive employments. And the faithfuls, who are largely unemployed, watch as a very tiny few come to service in convoys of stolen riches.

In the north, where the impact of unemployment is much more harsh and religion is consequentially deep,  as well as other disadvantages such as access to education as a result of growing poverty being consequence of absence of markets for farm products and the collapse of industry, people like everywhere else have taken to deeper reliance on divine interventions. And of course, this have now subjected the Holy Books of the Bible and Al -Quran to all sorts of interpretations.

The thoughtless adoption of neo liberal social economic policies originating from imperial countries of the west without local contents that are people driven caused the disappearance of industries and employment as well as the growth of private accumulation of wealth at the detriment of society in general.

Resulting from these is the resort to self help clothed in kidnappings, robberies, internet scams, terrorism and other deadly crimes that have cost lives and properties unabated.

What has happened in the Nigerian situation is that apart from infrastructural absence, policies driven by neo liberal interests stunted growth; any growth that should have provided food, shelter, and anything capable of making a citizen live in average comfort.

The social economic and political burden of the crisis created by this is what has manifested in violent crimes like terror attacks, robberies etc; in the absence of a conscious radical political mass revolution that can displace the subsisting anti people system. For now, the only palliative we can have even within the existing system is good governance, which can only be achieved through clean and transparent choices of leadership.

The cost of these attacks is clearly evident in economic inactivity and a serious government need to give a holistic solution in terms of developing home grown policies that will return industries, create jobs en masse through infrastructuctural renewals, access to quality public education, moral regeneration and disciplined political class who abhors corruption and corrupt processes.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Ado Bayero, the death of a national pride - NLC

                                                                                          7th June 2014
                                       Press Statement
                                  Ado Bayero, the death of a national pride
We are saddened by the death, even at the age of 83, of the revered Emir of kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, son of Abdullahi Bayero dan Mohammed and former Nigerian Ambassador to French speaking West African country of Senegal. The late Ado Bayero was one of the very few traditional rulers in Nigeria worthy of mention as a man of peace, intellect and focus who clearly understood the metropolitan, multi ethnic and multinational implications of residents of his emirate and also ensured every resident would never have any encumbrances in their socio economic and political contributions that has proven Kano City as one of the fastest growing cities in Nigeria.

The late Emir lived by his personal means through agriculture and stock trading after he made strides as a bank worker with the Bank of British West Africa and a parliamentarian of the Northern Regional Assembly in 1954. He was also in the police service between 1957 and 1962 driven by his uncommon commitment to the struggle against injustice through illegal detentions and acrimonious political circumscriptions.

Industries, especially textile, leather, international trade, agriculture, the informal economy etc blossomed under his traditional leadership and effective local and global networking since 1963 when he  became the Emir of one of Nigeria’s fastest growing communities until recent economic slump instigated by obvious lack of national policy directions as imposed by global neo liberal interests.

Alhaji Ado Bayero was surely a man of peace. Kano has had very fatal security challenges in the past. His Emirate almost became a breeding abode for all sorts of extremism, but his ability to understand the multiplicity of views, religion and nationality gave Kano a sustained peace and serenity.

His interventions in the ongoing security challenges in Nigeria also testify to his commitment to peace and unity as well as abhorrent dispositions to violence and hatred.

One of the best ways to honour this icon of modern Nigeria is for government at all levels to resuscitate the industrial legroom in Kano, a city that once played host to very many industries that heavily impacted on our collective national pride and economy. 
We express the condolences of all Nigerian workers to his family, the entire people and residents of Kano as we share the collective grief of the passing of a colossus who impacted on the lives of every Nigerian through his exemplary life of tolerance, quest for unity and peace as well as industrial development.

Abdulwahed Omar


Thursday, 13 February 2014

The World That Made Mandela: A tribute to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela at the Memorial organised by the Abuja Collective in Abuja, Nigeria on Thursday 13 February 2014.

The World That Made Mandela: A tribute to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
Tribute prepared for the Commemoration of the Life and Times of Nelson Mandela, Abuja.  13th February, 2014.

Luli Calliincos, social historian and author of The World that made Mandela , official biographer of Oliver Tambo. Winner of the Noma Award for her Working Life: Factories, Townships and Popular Culture, the best book in Africa published in 1988, awarded in Ife, Nigeria.

Edward Webster, director of Chris Hani Institute, COSATU House , and Professor Emeritus, University of Witwatersand, Johannesburg. Webster was arrested and put on trial in 1976 for calling for the release from prison of Nelson Mandela.
When Nelson Mandela passed away on 5th December 2013 his life of commitment to the liberation struggle was celebrated across the globe. Never before have so many foreign dignitaries gathered to attend the funeral of one man. He had become the moral icon of the globe; a benchmark against which no other statesman of the twentieth century could compare.

Statesmen across the world paid tribute to Mandela’s contribution to the struggle for a a democratic South Africa, but very few have examined the forces that shaped his early life. The world, in other words, that made Mandela the figure he was to become. In this short tribute we focus on his early life; the influence of the traditional values of the rural world where he was born and grew up; his early education at Methodist missionary schools such as Clarkebury Secondary School,  Healdtown High school  and then later Fort Hare University from which he was expelled for political activities. It is these early influences that are less well known but they were nevertheless decisive in shaping the leader he was to become.

His death triggered a robust debate centred on whether Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had been a member of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA, later renamed the South African Communist Party).  In a study reminiscent of the Cold War, Steven Ellis raises the question of communism in relation to the decision of the ANC  in 1960 to turn to armed struggle. Apart from the evidence that senior CPSA members such as Moses Kotane, JB Marx, Bram Fischer, Rusty Bernstein and others considered that the time was not ready for such a move, there were many non-members of the movement who eagerly embraced this change of strategy and welcomed the formation of Umkonto We Sizwe (MK) .

Mandela himself wrote ambiguously about his relationship with the CPSA/SACP, at that time banned and Underground. Arguably,   he did attend Central Committee meetings in the early sixties while planning the shift to armed struggle, either as a member or as member of the ANC/SACP Alliance. At that point he was exploring and finding Marxist theory useful to the cause of the national freedom struggle  Perhaps, as Paul Trewhela, himself a relentless critic of the ANC and above all the SACP, indicated recently that what is more relevant in  pinning down the identity of Mandela, a revolutionary African nationalist, is his political conduct then, and subsequently.

Indeed, the way this debate has been conducted has been quite superficial. While some have sought to extract Mandela’s persona from his organisation, he consistently maintained that he was an integral part of his movement.
‘The ANC made me’, he said.

And indeed, from the moment Mandela met Walter Sisulu in his Johannesburg office in the early forties,   the latter identified Mandela, because of his physical presence and confident, aristocratic bearing, his charisma, nous and commitment, as a natural leader. He came subsequently to personify the liberation movement as it grew from the respected but pedestrian ANC to a more interactive grass-roots, steadily growing mass movement.

As a prisoner from 1964 to 1990, Mandela was elected to be the spokesperson on Robben Island:  ‘the trio, Mandela, Sisulu and Mbeki (the old man, Govan);’ remarked Neville Alexander, ‘they were always projected as a trio. But whenever it came (and this was obviously to do with prestige and stature) to negotiating or talking with the authorities, or with visitors from time to time, he would be the one that was nominated to do so, and the prison authorities generally expected that he would be that one.’

The ANC in exile purposefully chose him to be the face of the liberation struggle, witness the publication of No Easy Walk to Freedom, a collection of his speeches and writings by the ANC in the United Kingdom in 1965, with an insightful introduction by Oliver Tambo. Over the years, Mandela, despite the absence of his image, became an international icon, a potent metaphor for the entire liberation movement against apartheid.

But all human beings, each one of us unique - as indeed Madiba was, spectacularly so - are also shaped by what French historians call the longue durĂ©e of our historical background, of the deeply embedded formations of our socio-economic and political context  – race, class and gender-  but also by our culture.  Over the years we have come to be fascinated by the qualities of agency that each one of us exercises in our day-to-day experiences. The choices we make in our lives are to a great extent shaped by our culture and values, many of which we internalise, modified of course by experiences dealt to us according to the material circumstances foisted on us.

What were these values and experiences that shaped Mandela’s early life? Firstly, take for example the culture of survival developed in precolonial times, which through trial and error over the millennia drew strength and endurance from collective endeavour. Cooperative practices in hunting and gathering, in the shared use of land, group participation in work parties during seasonal ploughing, and bonding through marriage, These material conditions led to the development of respect for fellow humans and enduring social relations – at its best, the principles of Ubuntu.  These are the values that shaped the early Madiba.

Secondly, his holistic approach where families were inclusive, not slaves to biological kinship; they were multigenerational and extended; children were part of the homestead economy; healing did not separate the mind and feelings from bodily ailments. Lessons in all activities – in storytelling and tales of the ancestors; or competitive stick-fighting was both about physical prowess and dexterity and a course in strategy and highly sophisticated behaviour, some of which we seem to have lost in modernity – ‘I learned to be generous in victory’, Mandela remarked of his early life.

Thirdly, there is a danger of dismissing the leaders of society as a privileged elite – usually powerful and famous man; yet in writing biographies of Oliver Tambo and Mandela, we came to appreciate that leaders often reflect the values of the people whom they serve. In the societies of these two men, to be the best kind of leader was to be an exemplar.  Consensus decision-making ensured participation through consultation. In a non-literate, oral culture, people learn to listen carefully and to hone their memory. In an imbizo or collective council (admittedly, in the past, consisting of men only), the traditional leader listens very carefully, is the last to speak, and in making decisions, ensures that at as many of the opinions of the councillors are skilfully woven into the final resolution.

Neville Alexander, a sharp, left-wing critic of what he saw as the ‘opportunism’ of the ANC, came to appreciate their leadership on Robben Island:  ‘[Mandela]  would always speak on our behalf. But there was always a very democratic process. I must stress that point. Nothing happened without proper careful consultation, and there were very few occasions I can recall where consultation was absolutely not possible’.
Fourthly, an important aspect of traditional rural culture was an astute pragmatism. 

Under colonialism, the children of the aristocracy were enticed to attend missionary schools. The message of Christianity spread relatively rapidly for two reasons: the one was that its attractive message to ‘love one another’ resonated with the ingrained culture of humanity, so effective in social relations; the other was the remarkable skill of literacy. The words of the missionaries’ Bible opened windows and revealed exciting vistas and capabilities by learning to read, and indeed inspired men and women to put down in writing the centuries-old rich oral culture retained in ancestral memory.

Very rapidly, within a generation, an African intelligentsia emerged, and an invaluable syncretism: in his autobiography, Albert Luthuli, President of the ANC from 1955 until his death in 1967,  identified himself as a dedicated Zulu, yet spoke of choosing the best of qualities of all cultures.

‘Western civilisation,’ said Luthuli, ‘is only partly western. It embraces the contribution of many lands and many races. It is the outcome of interaction, not apartheid. .. It belongs to Africa as much as to Europe or America or India’.

Mastering the weapons of the ruling class, using them as a means to confront the colonisers, was an effective if not sufficient way to (literally) defend and advance the cause of their people.

Sixthly, this openness to intellectual inclusiveness enabled the ANC of Mandela and Sisulu and Tambo and others of their generation to grasp a broadening concept of the nation. From seeking to unite the diverse African ethnicities into a family of one nation in 1912, it widened to cooperate with all oppressed blacks; then at the time of the Freedom Charter in 1955, the ANC formed alliances with all democrats, including the organised working class (the South African Congress of Trade Unions), black and white, until finally, in the 1990s, the concept of the nation under democracy included all the people of South Africa, across the political spectrum. Seven years later, during his first excursion ever outside South Africa, in 1962,  Mandela recalled in his autobiography that going to African countries meant more to him ‘than a trip to France, England and America combined’.  At the PAFMECA conference of Addis Ababa, (the precursor of the OAU), he thanked ‘Ghana, Nigeria and Tanganyika, who spearheaded the successful drive to oust South Africa from the British Commonwealth’.  For the first time too, Mandela realised the tangible promise and power of Pan Africanism, and the boundaries between African nations were imposed by colonial imperatives.

And so, when Mandela steadily began developing in his mind the original objective of MK, to bring the oppressors to their senses and call for a National Assembly to hammer out a negotiated solution, he tested it against his closest comrades in prison, Sisulu , Kathrada, Mkwayi;
’What took you so long?’ they asked.

And that indeed is the punch line. For deeply embedded in this response  was a sub-text: that despite the brutality, the barbarism and the devastating price in lives, dignity and suffering, the quality of Ubuntu is not strained.

It allowed the majority of the people to overcome the anger and the pain through an internal recognition that for the majority of South African people, generosity and humanism represents the best of culture in Africa’s long history. It was this ingrained understanding that allowed Mandela to take his gamble – and succeed in fashioning, through a careful, collective process of respect, consultation and inclusiveness, a South African democracy and constitution that is celebrated around the world.

Mandela was not alone. Thanks to a deeply ingrained African humanism, the message resonated with, and was effortlessly grasped by millions of men and women throughout the continent of Africa. It was this message that moved the world, one that the 21st century cannot afford to forget.

Tribute on Nelson Mandela by Prof. Ben Turok, Member of the South African Parliament at the memorial events on Mandela in Abuja on Thursday, 13 February 2014

Ref C80 7 Feb 2014


BY Prof Ben Turok  M P (ANC) South Africa

Commemoration of the Life and Times of  Nelson Mandela

Abuja, Nigeria 13 February 2014

Who was Nelson Mandela really ? And how should we remember him ?

I pose these questions because Mandela is remembered in so many different ways and it is the responsibility of his comrades, especially the veterans among, us to ensure that his role in history is preserved correctly.  There is no intention here to be possessive of his legacy, or to deny others in their desire to claim him for all of humanity, but it is important that the essence of the man should not be lost in the general acclaim of his virtues.

In part, we take this stance because, in South Africa, there is a deliberate move to hijack Mandela’s name by the political opposition in order to piggyback on his reputation for the sake of gaining credibility. Politicians who were never part of the struggle, but who wish to present themselves as upholders of democracy are celebrating Mandela as if he was associated with them in the years of apartheid. We need to correct that.

Others, for more benign reasons, celebrate Mandela for his forgiving of former enemies, and so he is portrayed as a man with an overwhelmingly generous nature. There is indeed a basis for this approach, but we should not forget that this forgiving was also due to the need to prevent civil war, that is, there was a political necessity to undermine extremism in the white community. Mandela was a pragmatic person. But he was also very wise, and he understood the racial dynamics in the post liberation period.

Still others, celebrate Mandela for his humanity, for his love of people and particularly children, which he demonstrated in public so often. This is the characteristic that is most referred to in global fora, and rightly so. In his speeches as President of South Africa, Mandela again and again referred to the essential humanity of our people and called upon all to respect everyone.

Yet others admire his non-racialism which he advocated and promoted at every opportunity. He went out of his way to show his public appreciation of people of all social origins and identities without exception, inviting them to visit him, be photographed with them, and show respect for everyone. This was remarkable for a man whose political origin was in African nationalism though never descending to chauvinism. We can never forget that he was the leader of the African National Congress when it was still exclusively for African members.

Again, some appreciate his openness to engage with people who held totally opposite political positions. He was willing to engage with people like George Bush and many others, who had opposed the African National Congress and indeed condemned Mandela as a terrorist in the past.

In all these relationships, although he was polite and open, he never departed from his principled stance on what was right for the oppressed people of South Africa. And that too was appreciated by all who came into contact with him.

We, in the African National Congress want to share Mandela’s memory with all the world, whatever aspect of his personality they may focus on.

At the same time, we have a special concern that his role as leader of a tough liberation struggle is never forgotten. Mandela, like so many others, sacrificed his personal life, he freedom, and was willing to give life itself, for the struggle which was the centre of his existence.

I was privileged to be with Mandela in the 1956 Treason Trial for two of the  four years. He was then in his thirties, an imposing young man of regal bearing, always in formal dress, and calm in demeanour. There were times when the evidence led was deeply disturbing and we were warned that it could lead to the ultimate sentence. Fortunately the prosecution overreached itself set the bar too high, and failed to prove that the movement was either set on establishing a communist state or that our means were violent. The most senior leaders among the accused were Chief Albert Luthuli and Moses Kotane, Mandela was then a middle level leader, but we all knew that his time would come.

Some years later, in 1961, I was drawn in to assist Mandela with logistics. Since I was a professional land surveyor, familiar with mapping, I was designated to advise on strategic targets such as roads, bridges etc throughout the country to be sabotaged. I met with Mandela in secure premises in Johannesburg, for these purposes. Again I found him to be calm but determined, even though he was by then living in hiding.

In the succeeding years, our paths diverted, for me it was prison and exile. For Mandela it was Robben Island for all those long years. But he was not forgotten, indeed his fame grew with the years, until the whole world knew about his existence. “Free Nelson Mandela” became the most popular slogan around the world.

We know that in Nigeria this call was taken up by the labour movement, by students and academic staff, and by many others. For that we are for ever grateful, and it succeeded as history records.

But now, new challenges await us, in South Africa, in Nigeria, and throughout Africa. We need unity of all progressive forces, we need clear policies, focused objectives, and above all, determined commitment to the cause of a world free of oppression and for a decent existence for all.