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Jakarta Post

Mandela and his source of inspiration, Sheikh Yusuf

  • Hafid Abbas

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, December 15, 2013   /  12:56 pm

Five days prior to the commemoration of International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, the world mourned the passing of Nelson Mandela, the icon of human rights, former South African president and anti-apartheid hero. Similarly, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on his official Twitter account called Mandela a great icon of reconciliation and a dedicated father of his nation.

 One of his most famous quotes came from the end of his trial, when he was sentenced to life in prison due to his anti-apartheid efforts: '€œI have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'€

In his spirited struggle against apartheid, Mandela once said he was greatly inspired by Sheikh Yusuf who originated from the Indonesian town of Makassar, South Sulawesi.

The nations that became Indonesia and South Africa were then under Dutch colonial control and a prisoner transfer took place between the two colonies. In 1684, Yusuf, one of the rebels at that time, was persuaded to surrender on the promise of a pardon, but the Dutch instead imprisoned him at the castle of Batavia (now Jakarta).

The Dutch then transferred him to Ceylon, before exiling him to the Cape in 1693. But Yusuf'€™s settlement outside Cape Town soon became a sanctuary for slaves, and later the first Islamic community in South Africa.

Such cohesion in the community then became a unifying factor behind the black African slaves'€™ struggle for their equal rights.

What Sheikh Yusuf did awakened South African communities to fight racism. Mandela described Yusuf as one of the best sons of Africa and later honored him as a national hero.

There are a number of reasons why I think Mandela named Sheikh Yusuf as his source of inspiration, and as one the best sons of South Africa. First, Yusuf had resisted the domination of the white regime which led to the loss of his life. Second and third, the Sheikh'€™s struggle was to fight discrimination even though it would benefit people of entirely different backgrounds to his own; and his struggle took place thousands of miles away from his country of origin.

If Yusuf as a foreigner had dedicated his life for human rights movement in South Africa, surely a citizen should equally be spirited in removing discrimination in his own homeland.

Fourth, Sheikh Yusuf'€™s gained no reward or compensation from his struggle, and he did not get to taste the fruit of his efforts to support South Africans.

From these observations it is logical how the Sheikh became one of the inspirations of the nation'€™s first black president.

To renew the emotional historic links and common past between Makassar in South Sulawesi, and Makassar in South Africa '€” the location of Yusuf'€™s former settlement '€” I took part in facilitating the honorary award of a doctorate to Nelson Mandela from the Hasanuddin University of Makassar on Sept. 10, 2005.

Mandela agreed to accept the award, facilitated by my office, the directorate general of human rights at the Law and Human Rights Ministry, the Indonesian Embassy in Pretoria, and the University. However, due to his health problems, Mandela was represented by the governor of South Africa'€™s Western Cape, Ebrahim Rasool.

He was the fourth person to receive such an honorary doctorate after founding fathers Sukarno, Muhammad Hatta and leading economist Soemitro Djojohadikoesoemo.

The educator Maria Montessori once said, there were two kinds of tears, those from the common side of life that everybody can master, but there are other tears that come from God. Such tears are the expression of one'€™s very own heart, and it is such tears that I shed for Mandela.

The writer is a professor at the State University of Jakarta, and former director general of human rights at the
Law and Human Rights Ministry.