Column: Appreciate Mandela while you can

Nelson Mandela will turn 90 soon and, much to my dismay, his birthday has not been declared an

international holiday. I have no choice but to declare it a personal holiday and spend it thinking about Mandela and the great example of his life, while sipping beer on the couch. Let the wife take out the trash.

Wife: “What are you drinking at this time of the day?”

Me: “It’s not what I’m drinking that’s important. It’s what I’m thinking.”

Wife: “I know what you’re thinking — that you need to do more drinking.”

Me: “No, I’m thinking about Nelson Mandela. Did you know that he spent 27 years in prison, then came out and reconciled with his oppressors? That means that there’s still hope for Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.”

Wife: “Exactly how much have you had to drink?”

Actually, the only beer I drink is ginger beer. But I do occasionally drink wine and I’m hoping to raise a toast to the great man. Of course, one toast may not be enough. I’ll probably have to toast him all day.

Me (raising glass): “To Mandela. May he live until he’s 125.”

Wife: “Isn’t that your 125th toast today?”

Me: “Yeah, but don’t worry: I’m going to take a break for breakfast. I’m starving.”

Wife: “What are you going to have?”

Me: “Toast, of course. So I can raise it in Mandela’s honor.”

I hope everyone takes a moment to appreciate Mandela, for he won’t be around forever. If you have a chance to see him, don’t miss the opportunity. Make a pilgrimage to South Africa, if you have to. If you can’t afford the plane ticket, try going there on a raft. Even a piece of Styrofoam might work. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

Mandela is the Gandhi of our time and if you’re lucky enough to exchange a few words with him or shake his hand, you’ll be able to brag about it for the rest of your life. You’ll be the envy of everyone you meet. It’ll be better than having tickets to the Wimbledon final. It’ll be better than having a backstage pass at a U2 concert. It’ll be better than having a child with Tom Brady.

Stranger: “Excuse me, is that the hand that once shook Mandela’s hand?”

You (smiling broadly): “Yes, indeed. He put both his hands around it.”

Stranger: “Wow, that’s amazing. Do you allow people to shake it?”

You: “Yes, of course I do. Will you be using Visa or MasterCard?”

Stranger: “Do you accept cash?”

You: “Cash? This is 2025. Who uses cash anymore?”

Before you travel to South Africa, you need to make sure Mandela will be there. He’s in demand all over the world. He has to attend concerts in his honor, unveil statues of himself on every continent and, of course, have tea at Buckingham Palace. He does it all with such grace and class, even whispering to the Queen that she need not bow. 

Robert Mugabe, Hosni Mubarak and other leaders could learn from his example. He was elected president of South Africa in 1994 and, after serving one term, decided to step down, though he was only 81. He doesn’t need power — he has something far greater: integrity.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. great article! Did you know that his first wife was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
    (via email)

  2. jjd, until I read Mandela’s Wikipedia entry, I didn’t even know about the first wife. I thought Winnie was his first wife.

  3. Fladnag says:

    Melvin I dont agree. Mandela may be a great statesman, but he is not of the calibre of Ghandi. Mandela was preparing for armed struggle (which didnt rule out killing civilians), “if all else fails” (obviously when Mandela himself was to decide when all else failed!) whereas Ghandi said the most effective resistence was peaceful resistence, whatever the circumstances, no matter what! That, in my opinion, puts Ghandi in an entirely different category to Mandela.

  4. I agree with fladnag. Gandhi can not be compared with Mandella. In fact, post his release from prison, there have been many controversial things which Mandela has done, including openly sympathising with the Libyan government and Gadafi, etc..
    of course, clarkson isnt the ultimate authority on anything, but he does, at times make a point.
    But, what I do like in your write-up is the way he reconciled with his agressors. something, all of us should learn.

  5. Roopesh says:

    Mandela and Mbeki have not done anything about Zimbabwe; and in fact Mbeki has been complicit in Mugabe’s paranoid and terrible oppression of his people. They have the moral authority and the political/social/economic
    leverage as a key neighboring country. Inaction in the face of injustice is not a Gandhian ideal and their weak response diminishes their stature.
    (via email)

  6. This piece is hardly amusing. may be it was not meant to be. But you made my day by your last line “He doesn’t need power — he has something far greater: integrity.” True indeed. Remarkable after spending 27 years in prison he not only could retain his mental prowess but could dismantle apartheid, assume power and have the clarity to give it up. of course romance might have to do something to do with it. I raise my cup of kapi ( the brown coffee ) that I drink to the grand young man Mandela!
    (via email)

  7. charlie says:

    Are you crazy. To toast a murder who killed his own tribe members when they did not agree with him. When he went to prison his second wife took over where he left off. She was more extreme than he was but both were known for putting a tire around a person neck that disagreed with them. Filled it wiith gasoline and put a match to it and watched this person burn with thier hands tied behind their backs, oh what a great stateman. Time magazine man of the year. Time put pictures of these people burning back in the late 60’s. What a short memory.

  8. I think Winnie was an advocate of necklacing, wasn’t she? Before you lionize Mandela, do the research. I am not all that sure he is as non-violent as the beloved Mahatma.

  9. Really makes you think how valuable a handshake with George Bush, Bill Clinton or Pee Wee Herman will be …
    (via email)

  10. Mandela is on the level of MLK but not as spiritualy pure and socially conscious as Ghandi the endearing nonviolent one.

  11. hosni_mubarak says:

    Mama, Melvin scolded me! (cries)

  12. Melvin Im your biggest fan. In Uganda, not in south America but in East Africa!!
    We all respect Mandela regardless of how he achieved it but the way you fight depends on your opponents style. wats important is wat he fought for “PEACE”

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