Okumu: The day I shouted down Mandela

December 7, 2013 6:27 PM

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Updated Saturday, December 7th 2013 at 21:09 GMT +3

In his home in Bondo, 78-year-old economist is dressed in a yellow shirt with spots of black and brown.

Departed South African President Nelson Mandela gave this souvenir to him four years ago.

Professor Washington Jalang’o Okumu was in South Africa as a guest of Mandela under the aegis of African Elders – formulated by Mandela – and which the economist chaired.

The elderly, bespectacled professor of economics shows The Standard on Sunday team pictures he took with Mandela and another one taken with top US and Britain diplomats as he brokered peace in South Africa 19 years ago.

“ Mandela is godlike to South Africans for his pivotal role in breaking the chains of racial discrimination for the over 40 million South Africans. He was the most humble man I have ever encountered. I used to refer to him as a saint and this made him livid,” says Okumu, adding that Mandela was a selfless leader.

Prof Okumu recalls his encounter with Mandela with a mixture of sadness and happiness; sad for the loss and happy for the role he played to end apartheid in South Africa.

He was bedridden but was enthusiastic and strong enough to speak to us from his bedroom, which also acts as his well-stocked library.

Nineteen years ago, supporters of two top leaders in South Africa were on the verge of war, but Okumu brokered peace that led to the first democratic election in South Africa.

At his home in Nyang’oma village in Siaya County, about 10 kilometres from Bondo town, Okumu narrated to The Standard on Sunday the role he played to bring peace to South Africa, at a critical point.

The African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were engaged in protracted conflict soon after the release of Mandela.

“Their bloody differences were not only causing deaths but were putting into jeopardy the first all-race election in South Africa,” he explains.

Source: standardmedia.co.ke

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