They came from different corners of the earth, and from opposite sides of the fence. The one, steeped in classic European culture, the other, raised in the African traditional court of AbaThembu Regent King Jongintaba. One, denied a decent education for his membership of the so-called bourgeoisie class in the north, and the other, a champion of the proletariat in the south. One called a dissident, the other a terrorist.
Yet in many respects, Vaclav Havel was the Nelson Mandela of Europe. They epitomised in very different circumstances the ultimate truth: That it may take its time and some torturous twists along the way, but good triumphs in the end. It’s inevitable.
Charismatic. Imprisoned by totalitarian regimes. Freed to lead. Moral. Reconciling. They were among the true human riches to grace the international stage after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We were thus terribly saddened to hear of Havel’s passing this week. There is no doubt that the world is a poorer place without him. We draw some consolation from the fact that his name will live beyond the grave.
I did not know Havel well, having only once had the opportunity to work with him, co-authoring a report titled, “Threat to the Peace”, in 2005 recommending that the United Nations Security Council intervene to defend human rights in Burma.
But he was that rare breed of person who had the kind of presence on earth that made it unnecessary to know him personally in order to understand what he meant.
Vaclav Havel was more than the sum of his constituent parts. He was more than a dissident playwright, and prolific essayist. He was more than a leading light in the Velvet Revolution that ultimately toppled what he termed “Absurdistan” – who was installed as the last president of Czechoslovakia before being elected the first president of the Czech Republic. He was more than a campaigner for human rights, freedom and democracy in countries from Burma to Belarus. And he was more than a passionate believer in the power of non-violent resistance.
He was a human being who understood that no matter where we come from, how we look or the state of our bank balances, we are all members of one family, the human family, and we are made for goodness.