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The batik-wearing guru
who led with his heart

Greatness passes on: Former South African president Nelson Mandela, wearing a batik shirt from Indonesia, waves to the media as he arrives outside 10 Downing Street in central London in 2007. The 95-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner died Thursday in South Africa. (AFP/Leon Neal)
Greatness passes on: Former South African president Nelson Mandela, wearing a batik shirt from Indonesia, waves to the media as he arrives outside 10 Downing Street in central London in 2007. The 95-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner died Thursday in South Africa. (AFP/Leon Neal)

From a prison outfit on Robben Island to a suit and tie at the Presidential Office in Cape Town, and a batik shirt at Buckingham Palace.

Indonesia joined the global eulogy on Friday for the passing of a man who embodied the spirit of freedom and courage. A man who, like Gandhi, shone a light of conscience on 20th century ignorance.

But Indonesians will also remember Nelson Mandela fondly as the statesman with a penchant for batik even before it became vogue for the upper-class masses. Which Indonesian can boast he has met Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, the Queen of England, Bill Gates, Michael Jackson and many more world leaders and celebrities while consistently donning batik?

Former vice president Jusuf Kalla remarked that Mandela was keener on wearing batik at international events than he was himself.

More than just an international ambassador of batik, Mandela personified the spirit of conciliation that Indonesians loved. As President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono so aptly described him, he was a man “who led with his heart”.

Both he and Vice President Boediono underlined the moral example displayed by the former South African president as a form of wisdom to be emulated by the nation.

The palace, however, has yet to confirm whether Yudhoyono plans to attend Mandela’s funeral, though it is preparing an official letter of condolence to be sent.

Rights activists also lauded Mandela as a leader who was able to peacefully reconcile South Africa’s bitter past with its future.

Setara Institute chairman Hendardi noted that Mandela’s struggle to resolve past rights abuses was a symbol for Indonesia’s leaders, who have tended to neglect past incidents.

Similar praise came from around the world. FW de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, who freed Mandela from prison in 1990 and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with him in 1993, praised him “as a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did. This emphasis on reconciliation was his greatest legacy”, De Klerk told CNN.

The UN Security Council in New York was in session when the members received news of Mandela’s death. They stopped their meeting and stood for a minute’s silence.

“Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters, as quoted by Reuters. “Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity.”

Describing Mandela as “a world-renowned statesman, who during the long years led the South African people through arduous struggles to anti-apartheid victory”, Chinese President Xi Jinping also said Mandela was “one of the founders of China-South Africa relations, and an active champion of bilateral friendship and cooperation”.

US President Barack Obama said of Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president, “Today he’s gone home, and we’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.” Obama, who himself made history when he was elected in 2008 as America’s first black president, noted his first involvement in anything political was a protest against apartheid, the system of minority white rule in South Africa.

“He achieved more than could be expected of any man,” said Obama, who is expected to go to South Africa for Mandela’s state funeral. The flag over the White House was lowered to half-mast after Mandela’s death.

A somber South African President Jacob Zuma, announcing that Mandela had died at his Johannesburg home on Thursday after a prolonged lung infection, said, “Our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity earned him their love,” Zuma added as quoted by Reuters.

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