Posts Tagged Mandela

A story for those away from home this Christmas

I have spent two Christmases far away from home and I have to confess these were not the best Christmases I ever had. The topsy-turvy weather (I come from a country with a warm Christmas), not having my parents’ food, not having my parents, all contributed to this. This year I am once again at home and I will be celebrating Christmas with my family. I am content. But having spent time in the Netherlands, and having appreciated their strange Christmas traditions, I wondered what the reverse might feel like. That is how my latest story, Not an Afrikaner, was born.

Not an Afrikaner is the story of a Dutch man married to a South African woman and living in South Africa. He has to try to explain the strange custom of Zwarte Piet (I wrote about the controversy of this tradition here), face his unaccommodating and racist mother-in-law, and the unseasonably warm weather. This is a story for anyone who has to spend Christmas away from the country of his birth, but who can nevertheless learn to appreciate the otherness of his new home.

This is going to be in many ways a sad Christmas for South Africa with our great leader, Madiba, having just passed away. However, in the wake of his passing, I believe we will come to a greater understanding the of the extraordinary qualities of South Africa. This is something to celebrate.


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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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The abuse of Mandela’s legacy

Sometimes I think there is only one thing that all politicians in South Africa agree on: the semi-divinity of Nelson Mandela. He and possibly Desmond Tutu (who headed up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) are perhaps the only ANC political figure whose records are not plagued by rumours of corruption, incompetence or ignorance.

I do not believe Mandela is a saint. Mandela headed up the ANC for five years after our first free and fair elections and he was the symbol of peace that kept blood from being spilt. Yet the party under him has never experienced a moment without accusations of corruption. I sometimes wonder if he could have done more to make the ANC the political party that South Africa deserves.

Now he is an old, ailing man and it is too late. Rather, his legacy is being abused. Firstly, by his own party who can pretty much count on the people’s votes as long as they are Mandela’s party and then do whatever they like. Secondly, it seems by his own family, who appear to be making a lot of money from his legacy  (that said, much of this money may well be quite legal, if not necessarily tastefully acquired).  Many more, for good or for ill, invoke the spirit of Mandela. He is a sort of deity: his blessing whether real or implied can make an endeavour succeed.

The SABC (a public broadcaster, i.e. politically influenced) released footage of Mandela after he had been in hospital for some time. In what seems like an almost unbelievable feat of cognitive dissonance, Jacob Zuma and others proclaim Mandela’s health while Mandela himself seems apathetic and, frankly, nearing death. I have no idea what the ANC was trying to achieve, but it seems to me they only managed to enforce the idea that Mandela and his legacy are nothing more but pawns for their games.

Mandela was and is, I believe, loyal to the ANC. He would not turn his back on his party. But his party has abused his loyalty. And they will continue to do so after he is gone. Mandela’s legacy will live on when he dies, in fact, it is likely to become even stronger. And with death he will truly seem Saint-like. Mandela’s legacy is for everyone. Like Ghandi his words and actions transcend time and circumstance and politics. It is a powerful thing.

I wish the power of this legacy may be free from political abuse, but until the ANC is dissolved, I fear this will never truly be the case.

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