President Lula of Brazil and legendary Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana had too much in common, while so different in style

Mothobi Mutloatse

This is the story of two icons - Lula and Osagyefo - their ascension to power, international fame and, sadly, the fall from grace of one of them.

Yet they had so much in common, while being so different in style. From Brazil to Ghana in rhythm. Nuts and cocoa, accompanied by the beat of the samba and highlife music!

One was much-degreed, while the other barely had a formal education. The one began adult life as a teacher, while the other, after leaving school at Grade 12, became a street vendor and shoeshine boy, later working at a copper-processing factory.

While one went to the US and UK to study at Lincoln, Pennsylvania and Oxford universities, the other continued his high school career, obtaining a diploma.

The one massed honorary doctorates, including the Soviets' Lenin Prize, while the other lost a finger as a worker in a factory.

Who is whom here? I hear the reader ask. Can you guess the identities? Let's end the mystery, shall we?

The one is Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, while the other is Kwame Osagyefo Nkrumah, born respectively on October 27 1945, and September 21 1909, in Caetes, Pernambuco state, Brazil, and Nkroful, in what was then called the Gold Coast (now Ghana).

"We who experienced long periods of military dictatorship in our countries are well aware of the value and significance of freedom of expression," said one, while the other ironically suppressed the press, despite being a prolific author of several books.

Nkrumah brushed shoulders with the crème de la crème of leaders of the black world such as CLR James, Martin Luther King Junior, Malcolm X and George Padmore, to name a few, later becoming one of the pioneers of the Pan Africanist movement, as well as establishing a publishing company, Panaf, in London.

He was on a roll, later to become the darling of Africa in particular and Pan Africanists in the Diaspora - our man of all seasons: our Millennium man.

Nothing could stop him from helping the Gold Coast to gain independence from its colonial ruler, Great Britain. He would later declare: Africa Must Unite! And the rest of the continent would echo in unison: Yes, indeed.

The genius was afire. However, it is when he acquired the Akan nickname Osagyefo - uManqoba/Mofenyi (loosely translated as Victor/Reedeemer) - that the first signs of his decline could be detected. Six years later, while en route to Vietnam to help the war efforts there, he was told during a stopover in China that he had been deposed in a military coup d'état by soldiers led by Lt General JA Ankrah.

Even his followers had had enough of him. Kwanele! Ho Fedile! They refused to challenge the CIA-backed military dictatorship, despite his exhortations from across the border in Sekou Toure's Guinea. Neither did any other country come to his aid to reverse Nkrumah's unconstitutional sacking.

He would later die a lonely man, of a skin disease in Bucharest. He lies buried in his beloved birthplace at the memorial bearing his name. Incidentally, Ghana would experience five coups after Nkrumah's fall, some brutal and bloody.

Yet, if only Osagyefo had not assumed the misconception that he was bigger than the nation, and therefore all-seeing, a Mister-Know-It-All, and indispensable. He had made the cardinal error of introducing reactionary laws curtailing trade unions from striking as well as - wait for it - detention without trial.

Then followed general repression and its twin monster, corruption, financial mismanagement (including buying military plans and ships - boys-toys under the ironic guise of scientific socialism), all of which would later engulf Nkrumah in a litany of economic woes to the ruination of cocoa farmers.

The end was nigh, and yet Osagyefo and his cronies refused to read the writing on the wall. And the coup plotters lay in wait - together with their CIA masters.

But Nkrumah had failed to heed his own advice that: "Members of the party (Convention People's Party) must be the first to set an example of all the highest qualities in the nation ... We must produce unimpeachable evidence of integrity, honesty, selflessness and faithfulness in the positions in which we are placed by the party in service of the nation."

How eloquent and passionate.

Our second man, Lula, began his career in trade unionism in 1978 - 29 years ago - as president of the Steel Workers Union of Sao Bernando do Campo and Diadema. It was a dress rehearsal for the highest position in the land - which he would take up 25 years later - as the president of Brazil's population of 181 million, on January 1 2003.

On a Workers' Party ticket, he eventually emerged victorious to become president Lula - to be exact - President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. A far cry from the boy from Caetes who came from a family of eight children, of illiterate and peasant parents.

So, how is he juggling his worker background with his national duties to grow the economy and change the lives of the poorest of the poor in this massive country of more than 180 million souls of different races, cultures and expectations? (Brazil, like South Africa, has one of the most unequal societies globally).

And what has all this to do with us in South Africa? I hear some sceptics asking. Firstly, it is important to note that those who do not learn from history are doomed ... Secondly, revisiting the roles played by one's heroes/heroines is always energising, inspiring and sobering. For me that is.

Thirdly, and finally, I would like to say: Viva Brasil, and that Kwame Nkrumah's memory as a Son of Africa will always be with us, notwithstanding his shortcomings. Now drive and/or walk safely - and don't drink as you do.

lMothobi Mutloatse is a freelance writer