Monday, October 11, 2010

The Golden Age Of Mandela: Is It Over

“Madiba is like the biblical Moses, who took the children of Israel from the land of bondage, to the Promised Land, the land of milk & honey.” This quote from ANC spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu heralded the beginning Nelson Mandela’s birthday celebrations which can sometimes seem to stretch a good couple of months. It would seem there is an argument to be made that Jackson Mthembu missed his calling as that piece of prose is almost second to none. Only almost, as I would not discount the ANCYL’s Nyiko Floyd Shivambu, (he of the infamous Helen Zille’s sleeping around comments) being able to one up even those dizzying height of hyperbole.

I may joke, but as of late, I have noticed that there is a shift in South Africa to no longer look at Mandela in the golden hue in which he is presented. This is a debate and a critique that I welcome. The majority of comments I have read & heard on this debate have been fair & evenhanded; highlighting that South Africa’s freedom was not won by Mandela single-handedly. As Winnie Mandela is alleged to have said to the London Evening Standard, “There were many, others, hundreds who languished in prison and died. Many unsung and unknown heroes of the struggle, and their were others in the leadership too…” Other critiques have centred on his legacy purely as a politician, questioning his policy decisions, RDP, HIV/AIDS Macro-Economic policy etc. These discussions are both fair and necessary.

However, there is also a disquieting minority which whether intentional or not, strike as flippantly dismissive of Mandela’s legacy, merely scoffing, showing an attitude of, ‘Mandela, yeah whatever.’ With flights of fancy such as that of Jackson Mthembu it is east to be derisive. However, that does not change that it is also lazy and to be frank; stupid. The basis of these comments seems to be that there is no substance to the image of Mandela that we have. This notion leave me both angry and confused.

From the moment he was dubbed the ‘black pimpernel,’ Mandela became a figure shrouded in a sense of mystery. Upon his release, the mystery to a degree ended, another era in the image of Mandela came to be, the era of Mandela, ‘the living legend.’ One cannot deny that the image the world has of Mandela has transcended who he is, however, that does not mean there is no substance to the image we have of him. His name is now uttered with those of Ghandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Mandela during his incarceration was used by the ANC as a call around which all South Africans and people around the world against the Apartheid regime could rally. Used is perhaps too strong of a term as Mandela himself was quite willing for this, to happen.

Mandela is quoted as saying: “That was one of the things that worried me – to be raised to the position of a semi-god – because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed, but, nevertheless, sometimes fails to live up to expectations.” Despite these misgivings, Mandela allowed himself to become what South Africa needed. Someone that no other politician or figure in South Africa could play. Mandela is a figure around which South Africans of all races and creeds could look up to and admire. Mandela was more than a hero for black South Africans; he was a hero for ALL South Africans. Mandela has allowed us to transcend the multitudes of ways we choose to separate ourselves from each other, has shown us a way forward to forgiving each other of our past wrongs or as one tweet put it, “Zuma may have fathered half the nation, but #NelsonMandelaRocks because he’s the one who raised us.

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