Saturday, 14 December 2013
Where is Malaysia's Mandela?
As Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is laid to rest and the world has paid its tributes, we ask the obvious question, where is Malaysia’s Mandela?
Mandela has been described by other leaders as a giant of history who moved a nation towards justice and a light of the world. Madiba not only led but also made sacrifices.
Words such as freedom, courage, reconciliation, forgiveness, inspiration, grace and compassion are closely associated with him.
President Barack Obama made the following observation in his speech: “Emerging from prison, he would hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. He would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations, a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.”
Mandela was no saint, as he himself admitted. “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
But he was willing to make sacrifices and had the courage to do what was right. He lived by his idealism, taking risks through the power of action.
It is worth noting a few examples of his sacrifices, simplicity and courage.
Offered a release from prison in February 1985 if he rejected violence, he spurned the offer stating: “Only free men can negotiate.” He had the courage to safeguard the jobs of white civil servants, although this concession brought him fierce internal criticism. He was also chastised for granting amnesty to 3,500 members of the then hated police force.
Elected president in 1994, Mandela allowed F W de Klerk to retain the presidential residence and instead settled into a nearby Westbrooke manor. And he lived a simple life, donating a third of his 552,000 rand annual income to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and made his own bed, even as president.
Malaysia needs a Mandela. Perhaps, there never will be one.
But will there be leaders of the country who are able and willing to make his life’s work their own? Will we have such leaders who lead by sacrifice, courage, inspiration, grace, justice and moral authority? Who will lead us to greater freedom, and social and economic inclusion? Who will unify us racially, religiously and culturally?
Our nation is deeply polarised, whether by politics, race, religion or income. The urban-rural divide is not just about income but also race and politics. Households are cash poor, running up high levels of debt. The cost of living is rising as the increase in income falls behind real inflation rates, and made worse by the weakening of our ringgit. Besides having to pay one of the highest car prices in the world, the removal of various subsidies and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax in 2015 will compound the misery of the lower and middle-income groups.
Meanwhile, the stock market and property prices are at an all-time high. We see capital outflows by the rich. The economy is increasingly in the stranglehold of fewer and fewer people. The top 1% has more income than the entire bottom 40%. Monopolistic and rent-seeking behaviour continues and, indeed, is perpetuated by the establishment. The anti-monopolistic law is toothless. We have leaders of people openly flaunting their power and authority, comforted by the knowledge that their abuses will not be brought to accountability.
Bigots openly cast racial aspersions and perform offensive acts, knowing they are immune from prosecution. The same bigots and their supporters at the same time threaten others when opposing views are expressed. Moderation is seen as being liberal-minded. And all liberal views should be banned, as expressed by some delegates at a political convention of the dominant political party recently.
Surely, now more than ever, we should pray for a Mandela?
To quote Madiba, the greatest moral leader of our time: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”