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By Maite Nkoana-Mashabane
Minister, International Relations and Cooperation

Various scholars of political science hold diverse views about the concept of soft power, and the use thereof.  But for an American Scholar, Joseph Nye, the definition of soft power focuses on, amongst others, the power of “influence.”

His definition seems to find more resonance with South Africa’s diplomatic practice.  He defines soft power as a country’s ability to influence events through persuasion and attraction, rather than military or financial coercion.  He believes that a country has more soft power if its culture, values and institutions incite admiration and respect in other parts of the world.

This article, therefore, seeks to frame the legacy of Nelson Mandela within the context of Nye’s narrative of soft power.

July 18, 2013 marks the 95th birthday of a man whose name has become indistinguishable from our struggle for liberation, freedom, justice, human rights and human dignity.  This is a man among our living legends and stalwarts whose work has shaped the history of our struggle for freedom – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

In November 2009, the UN honored him by declaring July 18 Nelson Mandela International Day.  This was the first ever tribute of this nature conferred on a living legend in the history of the UN.

Even before his release from prison in February 1990, South Africa, the whole African continent and the world was eagerly awaiting his return to once again touch humanity in a big way.  His work, discipline and principles in prison continues to inspire us all.

Madiba spent 27 years in prison for the cause whose freedom we enjoy today, and indeed 67 years of his life dedicated to doing service to humanity.  On Nelson Mandela International Day, we are expected to spend just 67 minutes of out time doing community work to emulate the selfless spirit that Madiba represents.

This is a man we have always known as the father of our nation, the son of Africa, and a truly distinguished citizen of the world whose life and work has been celebrated the world over.

He has inspired many – young and old, black and white, at home and abroad – through his most steadfast, dignified and disciplined character.   But what was most striking about his vision was ensuring that South Africa became a winning nation at a time when many were in despair. 

Our struggle for liberation and freedom has been the centerpiece of Nelson Mandela’s life.  His life story and that of our country have become synonymous.

Even as he recovers in hospital, the outpouring of love from the world signifies the love he so selflessly shared with the citizens of the world.  Our generation is truly blessed to live in the times of Madiba.

At the time of his release from prison, Nelson Mandela was the first to attest to the notion that the struggle for freedom was till upon us. The unbanning of political parties in the 90s gave hope that our country was turning a new leaf in the history of our struggle for liberation.  This was a chapter to be pursued by all peace-loving citizens of this country under the stewardship of this iconic giant.

What was most profound in his reflection was that South Africa had always embraced the cry for democracy.  Across the world, South Africa is at the forefront of global efforts to promote and foster democratic systems of government.

This is especially important in Africa, and our concerns are fixed upon securing a spirit of tolerance and the ethos of self-governance throughout the continent.

He believed that there cannot be one system for Africa and another for the rest of the world.  If there is a single lesson to be drawn from Africa’s post-colonial history, it is that accountable government is a good government.

As we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday, we must also pay tribute to the OAU-AU as it celebrates its 50th anniversary since its inception in May 1963.  This is a regional body that continues to champion principles of democracy and good governance in Africa.

Founded some 45 years after he was born, the OAU/AU continues to promote some of the values central to Nelson Mandela’s beliefs. The regional body continues to promote an integrated, prosperous, peaceful and unified Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.

We have over the years managed to reposition our country as a key partner and player on issues of global governance.  Indeed, the present day South Africa has changed from what it was some years ago.

Today, South Africa is a better place that it was 19 years ago.  Very few countries in the world have achieved what our nation has in just 19 years. 

To this end, the work we continue to do for humanity is inspired by the values of Nelson Mandela.  What we want for ourselves as a country represents our wishes for other countries.  Our desire to grow and prosper reflects our vision for a prosperous Africa, and the entire world.

It is therefore in our best interest that Africa and the world emerge a better place for all to live in.  It is the very character of our history that should place us firmly as champions of democracy, good governance, human rights, peace and justice.  In so doing, we are paying tribute to the life and times of Nelson Mandela.

The principle of soft power also beckons us to utilize Nelson Mandela International Day to share our love and compassion with those who are less fortunate.

Even in his inevitable physical absence, we must continue to promote Nelson Mandela’s values by seeing the world through his eyes, and hearing its voices through his ears.

Make every day a Nelson Mandela Day.  Happy Birthday Madiba!