Remembering Mandela
    Category: Issues & Ideas By : Rakesh Wahi, Publisher, Forbes Africa Read : 1155 Date : Sunday, January 12, 2014 - 17:19:28


    Mike Hutchings / Reuters

    It is my unequivocal belief that in life, everything happens for a reason.

    When I look back at my life, I see three distinct journeys that I have undertaken, based on my early years. The first was my childhood dream about visiting Antarctica, the frozen continent. The second was Australia, which I studied in geography. The third was the selection of Cry, The Beloved Country, which was my textbook in English literature.

    Whether it was the forlorn cries of the Titihoya bird, the words of Priest Msimangu, or the constant reminder from Alan Paton that “All Roads lead to Johannesburg”—whatever the reason, I found myself drawn to South Africa in October 2004. Much as I traveled to Antarctica to establish India's second base in 1987, and traveled to Australia to ultimately establish a university in Dubai, my journey to Africa was yet another date with destiny.

    Like any journey in a young man's life, I met with interesting people everywhere I traveled; as my business interests grew so did the level of my interaction with political leaders around the world. Yet nothing that I had experienced in meetings with leaders prepared me for the meeting with Nelson Mandela.

    The opportunity arose before the World Economic Forum in 2006. It was the latter part of May that year when we received confirmation that Mandela would see us at his foundation in Johannesburg. I will remember that day and those 30 minutes with him as one of the most blessed moments of my life. Until then, I had never been in the company of a man whose distinctive personality brings a sense of humility to your existence. His words were deliberate, deep and reflective of his understanding of the person he was meeting. He seemed a man who looked at each moment for what it was worth; the mark of a man who gave importance to everything around him, more than to himself. A man, who despite his place in history, made me believe that he cared about the relatively tiny difference I was trying to make in the land he sacrificed so much for. He had a gift for making everyone feel special.

    Yes, Madiba made me choke with emotion. That was the power of the man. He touched the heart of a stranger. Is it then surprising to see how he is revered by his people? I have met quite a few people who have tales about his courage and kindness; his wisdom and his fortitude; and above all his sacrifice and his humility. India lost Mahatma Gandhi long before I was born. I grew up being taught about the values he left behind.

    Every century is blessed with a handful of leaders who are genuinely selfless and who sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. Madiba is nothing short of a rarity, certainly in the five decades that I have been around there is no comparison.



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