When Madiba dies

Mandela’s birthday is coming up on Thursday and people are being asked to donate their time to help others. Mandela is still in ill-health, and it seems his death may be announced at any moment, despite claims that he is recovering. With the world waiting for Madiba’s death, some here in the Netherlands have asked me what would happen then. Some (white) people seem to think that Mandela being alive is the only thing stopping the blacks from forcibly disowning or killing the whites in South Africa. This is nonsense of course.

Here is what I think will happen:

The entire country will mourn. Blacks, whites, coloureds, Indians, Chinese, everyone, will mourn. We will be one race: black with mourning.  For a very long time we will be a country in despair. Our GDP may take an appreciable hit.

But we will not erupt in chaos. We will be united in our morning, as we are united in our admiration for this great man. We will come together as we have not come together since 1994 because to do otherwise would dishonour the memory of this man. Mandela may die, but his ideals will outlive him. They will but gather strength from his death.

It will feel as if the entire country is attempting to attend his funeral (because the entire country will attempt to attend his funeral, or at least get in the vicinity). There will be tears and wails. There will be television broadcasts. Condolences will stream in from across the globe.

Mandela will be elevated to something like Sainthood. No bad thing uttered of him will be thought true. This I find a pity. For Mandela is a human being who has made mistakes. He is an example for us all, but we need to recognise his humanity. In time history will remember him as a man with a story that started long before his release from prison.

Some (read: the ANC and the Mandela family) will try to use his memory for their personal gain. I am not worried about them. They are but bit players in the grand story of the new South Africa that started with the first step Mandela took out of the Victor Verster Prison in 1990. They are overshadowed by greater ideals, by the larger strides that South Africa has made and will continue to make in spite of them. Mandela is not for the Mandelas. He is a symbol to the whole world. He will be a symbol long after he dies and long after bickering politicians and grandchildren are forgotten.

When our mourning has ceased, there will be no great announcement. There will not be a massacre or a festival. We will simply continue building our imperfect but ever hopeful country.

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