Delhi toasts spirit of Nelson Mandela

July 18th, 2011 - 10:21 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 18 (IANS) The national capital had a brush with the spirit of Nelson Mandela Monday. Singing by students and celebratory chants blended with reminiscences of the living icon, narrated by Ahmed Kathrada, the veteran anti-apartheid activist who spent years with Mandela in South Africa’s infamous Robben Island prison.

“Mandela is a fearless person, he has immense leadership qualities, even when we were sure of death sentence he was adamant on continuing the struggle,” Kathrada, who has known Mandela for over six decades, said here in celebrations to mark International Nelson Madela Day.

“He insisted on being treated as an ordinary prisoner. He did not want any preferential treatment,” said the 82-year-old Kathrada who was invited by The Aspen Institute, a think tank, to deliver the ‘Nelson Mandela Day Commemorative Lecture’ on the occasion of Mandela’s 93rd birth anniversary.

The lecture was organised in collaboration with the high commission of South Africa.

Recalling his memories, Kathrada, who was inspired by Gandhi’s teachings and a person of Indian origin, provided a rare up-close portrait of Mandela who shepherded his country’s transition to a democratic non-racial rainbow nation. Giving a new insight into the armed struggle launched against apartheid in those days, he said: “It was specifically to diminish the buildings and posters that say that black Africans are not allowed and every time it was taken care that no human life is injured in the process.”

“Our aim is to build a non discriminatory Africa under one flag,” he said. Foot-tapping music by students of Sprindales School added to the charm of the evening.

Kathrada served as the political advisor to Mandela after the the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994.

The two are the only surviving persons who were charged in all three of South Africa’s major political trials of the 1950s and 1960s.

Kathrada, the author of several books, including ‘A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada’s Notebook from Robben Island”, lauded India’s role in the struggle against the pernicious system of apartheid.

“Till our last day at Robben Island we were sure of death but I don’t know why we were saved. The common assumption that I have heard is that it was due to the international pressure put by countries like India and US that we escaped,” he said.

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who handled Africa as junior foreign minister, lauded Kathrada. “He is a man of courage, character, integrity and intellect,” Sharma said.

Said H. Majeke, South Africa’s High Commissioner to India: “Mandela is our leader, our inspirer and South Africa will forever be indebted to India for providing us a home away from home”.

India was among the first few countries to impose sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The Nelson Mandela Day recognises the dedication of the former South African president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate to humanity - particularly in areas of conflict resolution, human rights promotion and gender equality.

In 2009, the UN General Assembly declared that July 18 - Mandela’s birthday - would be observed every year as Nelson Mandela International Day.

In the evening, as part of the celebrations, the South African high commission organised a cycling and walking tour from the embassy to Grand hotel via Nelson Mandela Marg.

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