Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa past the racial discrimination of apartheid is seriously ill and in the hospital. The nearly ninety-five year old Mandela is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and served as President of South Africa from 1994-1999, the first black man to hold the office. The South Africa he inherited was one buoyed by the hope and optimism of a hard won victory. Through passive resistance and unarmed struggle, the county’s black majority had wrested from the hands of a white majority the reigns of a system where all advantages had been given to the whites and all costs borne by the blacks. South Africa’s revolution from the inequality of apartheid was bloodless, led by a strong charismatic leader, who had the vision and the perseverance to lead millions away from vengeance and toward reconciliation. Mandela is a leader who lived to see his vision realized and because of this, his country lived and was able to see it too.
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, died barely a year after the creation of Pakistan. His, was just as hard won, just as miraculous a victory. Through his masterful maneuvering and inspirational rallying; a country had been wrest from the clenched fists of the British Empire sulky about its’ losses. Suddenly, there was Pakistan, a whole country, carved out on a map, existing in reality. But just as Pakistan became real, Jinnah faded, as if the very miracle of the country’s creation had sniffed and sucked the life of its leader, exhausted him with the improbability of its own creation. There was Pakistan, and in an instant there was no Jinnah. It is the choice hobby of historians to point out the first sputtering chokes of a slow, national death and many mark Pakistan’s in that grim September of 1948.
Mandela, who spent twenty-seven years in prison before leading his country to democracy, lived to see victory. He lived to see the passage of the Black Economic Empowerment Act that sought to reverse the racism of apartheid without allowing the now ruling black majority to become a vengeful black majority. While laws aimed to transfer wealth and opportunity, and restrictions were lifted on everything from where South African blacks could live to which bathrooms they could use, the country dove headlong into a future that was against its challenges, largely stable. When Mandela left the Presidency and eventually public life it seemed, his shadow remained, watchful and nurturing over the newly democratic South African state.
If you put stock in leadership as the determinant of national futures, then this comparison would explain for you Pakistan’s condition; its unresolved ailments, its festering sores. If Jinnah had lived, his life extending into the summer and autumn of Pakistan’s seasons of growth, seen vision translated into the ordinariness of reality while still sustaining its spirit maybe the country would be in a different place. Weighed on the scales of tragedy, with leadership as a measure, Pakistan’s loss was the untimely early death of its leader, the man with the plan, without which a country already born had to face questions it did not yet know how to answer. Islam or democracy, security or welfare, education or defense, South Asian or Middle Eastern, too many conundrums, all of them too hard, too confusing even at the ripe age of sixty three. The death of one man should not mean so much, but perhaps the death of some men, leading men, doom the futures of too many more.
Rafia Zakaria is a columnist for DAWN. She is a writer and PhD candidate in Political Philosophy whose work and views have been featured in the New York Times, Dissent the Progressive, Guernica, and on Al Jazeera English, the BBC, and National Public Radio. She is the author of Silence in Karachi, forthcoming from Beacon Press.