On November 11, 2009, the United Nations declared every July 18th of each year - the birthday of Nelson Mandela of South Africa - to become henceforth an International Mandela Day.
No doubt, Nelson Mandela belongs to one of the giants of our generation. He is the icon of the struggle for freedom and basic human rights not only of the black men and women of South Africa but also of all the oppressed and discriminated worldwide.
He was arrested and sentenced to five years of hard labor in 1962. Then in 1964, he was further sentenced to life in prison for four counts of sabatoge and transferred to Robben Island (18 years). In 1982, he was transferred to Pollsmoor Maximum Security Prison (6 years) and in 1988, he was transferred to Victor Verster Prison (2 years). He was released on February 11, 1990 after 27 years in prison that included torture and isolation. The man was completely transformed from the fiery rebel to a man of peace with NO hatred and anger in his heart.
His dream was a united South African nation where Blacks, Whites and Coloreds could live together with NO discrimination and each respecting their basic rights and freedom. His vision of a South African nation was equally shared by then new South African White Boer President, Mr. F. W. de Klerk. Together, beginning with their initial dialogue in 1989, they constructed a vision of South Africa where the three - Blacks, Whites and Coloreds - would live in harmony with NO preferences or discrimination.
It was a novel and radical vision for the whole South Africa at that time. The immediate result was Mandela’s release from prison on February 11, 1990. In 1993, both Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize. And in April 1994, he became the first Black to become President of South Africa - seen at that time as a ‘miracle’ of the century.
In March 1997, President Nelson Mandela made a state visit to the Philippines. One of the highlights of his state visit was a special meeting with the MNLF leadership under Chairman Nur Misuari. Being the Floor Leader of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace & Development (SPCPD) Consultative Assembly, Chairman Nur included me in that private meeting held at a function room at the Manila Hotel. There I saw at close encounter the man! He was a towering figure but so unassuming and his message to Chairman Nur was to come up with a shared vision for all - regardless of ethnicity and religion - within the “Special Zone of Peace and Development” or SZOPAD. He expressed his admiration for the struggle of the MNLF and Chairman Nur during the times that he and his companions were shaping the struggle of the African National Congress.
Today, the man is fighting for his life - aged and fragile - but he remains the HERO and a FATHER not only for the Blacks and Coloreds but for the entire nation that is South Africa. The Nelson Mandela that has become his legacy to the world is captured in his “Long Journey to Freedom” and in the recent movie, Invictus. There, the man is portrayed not simply as man with passion for freedom but also as a man with equal passion for basic rights and human decency that are required for uniting peoples of different colors, faiths and ideologies. South Africa is for all and not only for the Blacks. This is the keystone to a true rebirth of a nation that is South Africa. Blacks, Whites and Coloreds need to be partners and stakeholders in making that inclusive vision for peace and development.
People and friends including my students continue to ask me whether I do see, too, an inclusive vision of peace, unity and development for our emerging Bangsamoro Political Entity sometime in 2015 and beyond. My answer is simply to point to the man - Nelson Mandela. We need a Mandela in our midst. Yes, we need a Mandela who would articulate a shared and an inclusive vision of peace, unity and development for all - the Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples.
Among the Muslims, there is a need to establish a new discourse where everyone is included regardless of affiliations (MNLF, MILF, BIFF or the Royal Houses) and ethnicities. Among the Christians, a new discourse is needed where they can speak to their Muslims and IP counterparts as true partners sharing a common future and vision for the coming years. Among the Indigenous Peoples, there is a need for a discourse that their own ancestral domain and self- rule on their local affairs are recognized and respected within the Bangsamoro. But for all this to happen, we need a Mandela who can go beyond the color of his own skin, beyond his own personal belief, and beyond his previous politics of exclusion. This is short of a miracle… yet we need one badly as we shape the Basic Law for the Bangsamoro.