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Mahathir is no Mandela

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The attempt by Dr Mahathir Mohamad to wring some scraps of reputation and standing from a person of the stature of Mandela was sickening, recalls Colin Nicholas.

Mandela and Mahathir at Stadium Negara in 1990
Mandela and Mahathir at Stadium Negara in 1990

Nelson Mandela was not a name that many in Malaysia were familiar with as he languished in prison for more than two decades.

I was introduced to his name, and not so much his struggle, at a street concert on a trip to London at the end of the 1980s. It was one of the many “Free Mandela” events in Europe then.

I must admit, however, that I was then more attracted to the African drum music than to his plight or struggle.

A year later in Australia, after finishing a short course at the University of New South Wales – on, of all things, diplomacy run by the later-to-be president of Timor Leste, Jose Ramos-Horta – I was in my friend Henry’s home, watching Mandela, on live TV, taking his first steps to freedom.

By then, I was in awe of him, and waiting for the early morning live feed was done willingly.

So when I heard that he was going to be at a rally in Stadium Negara on his first visit to Malaysia in October 1990, just eight months after his release from prison, I saw it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see him.

Contrary to what one newspaper reported recently, there was no 20,000 crowd there to greet Mandela. It couldn’t have been so anyway, as the stadium’s capacity was just 10,000. In fact, despite some last-minute attempts by the organisers to compel civil servants to attend, the crowd was disappointingly sparse.

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But Mandela did not disappoint me.

What disappointed me, even disgusted me, was the way our world-statesman-wannabe prime minister tried to compare himself with this lion of a man.

High on the scoreboard, directly in front of Mandela and his adoring host, was a huge sign with “Mahathir & Mandela: champions of racial equality”.

The attempt by Dr Mahathir Mohamad to wring some scraps of reputation and standing from a person of the stature like Mandela sickened me.

Here was a man who, under Operation Lalang, had recently detained more than a hundred political prisoners under the Internal Security Act, and who was now championing someone who had been detained for 27 years as a political prisoner.

But it was Mandela who had the last laugh. He did not come across as someone who was disappointed with the poor response from the Malaysian public to his persona. After all, the visit to Malaysia was not to boost his image.

The party he headed, African National Congress (ANC), was financially broke and it needed a lot of campaign funds for the first-ever democratic elections in South Africa due in a few years’ time (1994 as it turned out).

Mandela was actually on a fund-raising trip.

And he got RM32m from Dr Mahathir. No doubt, it was our money. Perhaps he wanted to let Mandela know that he was a nicer person than Tunku Abdul Rahman.

After all, rumour had it that when Mandela landed in Subang Airport, the first thing he asked Mahathir was, “How’s the Tunku?”

At that time, this would be equivalent to asking Mahathir (or Datuk Seri Najib Razak) today, “How’s Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim?”

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The animosity between Mahathir and Tunku was so high then that the issue of Tunku not being given an opportunity to meet Mandela was later brought up in Parliament.

In reply to a question from opposition leader Lim Kit Siang, the Dewan Rakyat was informed that “the question of anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela calling on former prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman did not arise at all during discussions on the itinerary of his recent visit to Malaysia”.

It is the kind of answer that we have got used to getting from spiteful leaders from that august house.

For Mandela, meeting Tunku was important because it was our first prime minister who was instrumental in getting the Commonwealth to impose sanctions on South Africa in protest against its apartheid policy.

This was the kick start to a global campaign to condemn apartheid and to seek Mandela’s freedom.

As such, Tunku was always on Mandela’s mind. Not Mahathir – who came closer to mirroring the likes of Mandela’s oppressors both in terms of his advocacy of racial discrimination and his cruelty to his political dissenters.

Malaysia has since been a strong supporter of the new democratic regime in South Africa, taking pride in giving advice, expertise and mentorship to the new leadership after Mandela.

This is the leadership that was booed publicly in front of many world leaders during the memorial for Mandela in Johannesburg last Sunday.

Dr Colin Nicholas is founder and coordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)

Source: themalaysianinsider.com

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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25 Dec 2013 7.46pm

A great piece written by Dr Colin Nicholas who brought Us back to the year of 1990s where global Icon Mr.Mandela the anti-apartheid leader happened to visit Malaysia……if not we,the Malaysians could have been deceived or cheated by this most vicious,most dispised,most cursed,and most hated man on Malaysian Soil yes,Mahafiruan the devil ,(whose administration) wholesale the State’s citizenship to illegal immigrants in exchanged for their votes,and forever changed the demography of My beloved Christian Majority state’s North Borneo to an illegal … slums’ or illegal filled state’s just to stay in power but for how long could a mortal … dispose…..Amin

najib manaukau
17 Dec 2013 8.37am

I am sure Mandela would roll in his grave if he ever got to know that he is compared to this egregious Mahathir !

I am glad that this egregious Mahathir was there to witness how many people, flew thousands of miles just to pay their last respect to a great icon of anti apartheid. Deep down he must have envied Mandela for that and must also have also known that will never ever happen to him when his time comes. Mandala fought for anti apartheid and what did he do ? For having marginalized million of Malaysian born non Malays and of course, that did not include himself … !

Mandela did not steal , nor did he steal to make his son to become a millionaire, Mandela truly was fighting for his country and for his people and will forever be remembered for that. Whereas this egregious will always be remembered for the (wrongdoings) he committed during his tenure as P.M. of Malaysia (while leaving) millions … in poverty. Why couldn’t he do that, when he said every thing is possible ?

James Chew
James Chew
17 Dec 2013 2.49am

How can anyone comparing MM to Mr. Nelson Mandela? That’s uncomparable. It’s like comparing a duck to a white swam; one is so ugly and filty but the other is noble and clean. MM is the father of “racism, corruption & hypocrite” but Mr. Mandela is the Father of South Africa”, he despised racism and corruption he upholds integrity and accoutabilty, he promotes love and unity among races ……… So, how can anyone compare this two people?

16 Dec 2013 9.56pm

Mandela world icon…… m kutty wicket …

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