Jonny on Madiba

Obviously, I’ve already read a lot of things this morning on the death of Nelson Mandela. But for me, this stood head and shoulders above everything else. Personal, honest, obviously written from the heart. It’s from Jonathan Faull on Facebook, and will soon also be on [I’ll update the link when it is available] [link updated]. Thanks to him for giving me permission to reproduce it here.

Here are Jonny’s memories of Madiba:

I remember not knowing what you looked like; seeing the regime’s footmen erasing your name from walls at sunrise before the paint had dried.

I remember, as a child sitting on the back seat of the car on the way to town, and at the top of Hospital Bend, my aunt pointing to Robben Island and saying that was where he lived; where the government had sent you.

I remember the news saying you were a terrorist, and my parents having to carefully explain to my seven-year-old-self that you were a hero; that the news and the government lie.

I remember the first time I saw you – the first time any of us had seen you for decades – walking free from Victor Verster; fist aloft… and in your smile, the uncertainties, violence, and angst of those heady days somehow dissipating. The spectacle of your release; the joy of a people unleashed; the chaos of your arrival at the Grand Parade.

I remember your words pulling us back from the brink of fratricidal explosion: “This killing must stop… we must not permit ourselves to be provoked by those who seek to deny us the very freedom Chris Hani gave his life for. Let us respond with dignity…” On that day you already were our President.

I remember a year later – almost to the day – walking to school the day after the elections and every person I passed, meeting my gaze and smiling at our new found wonderment.

And ten days later, bunking off school, in school uniform, and heading to the Parade to hear you speak as our State President; immersing myself in a throng of nationhood and unburdened happiness; being hoisted atop shoulders to cling to a lamp post to see you.

I remember the farce of the time that I met you: when while working as a waiter at a State Banquet for Bill Clinton, I abandoned my table and cunningly intercepted you… and hugged you! Before your bodyguards prized the crazy white kid from your smiling and surprised embrace.

I remember when you visited Zackie Achmat on his near-death-bed. You probably saved his life and – through his service – the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans in the face of your successor’s madness.

I was there when you had to be hoisted to the stage at UCT to celebrate the life of Steve Biko; when at the conclusion of your speech you announced your “retirement” from public life: “Don’t call me; I’ll call you.”

And I will remember this day – alone and bereft in Washington DC – so far from home, and the people who have come to call you Tata…

Hamba Kahle Madiba.

We will remember. How could we ever forget?

The Day Comes

The day that South Africa had been expecting, but dreading for so long, has finally come.

Despite not being in the public eye for a number of years, he will obviously be greatly missed and it’s a hugely sad day for everyone here. The apotheosis of Madiba – obviously accentuated today by this morning’s news – by the South African public is incredible to see, especially from an outsider’s point of view.

It has reminded me that although I live here and although I love this country, I’m not South African. And yet I find myself feeling shocked, numb, sad this morning. It’s impossible not to. For those in the UK who are wondering what things are like here today, it’s the equivalent of a hundred – a thousand – Dianas. But while that’s the only event in my lifetime that I can compare it to, paradoxically, it’s also somewhat incomparable. It speaks volumes that Madiba’s death, though it has been inevitable for so long now, something that – given the previous false alarms and scares – people here had probably felt that they were prepared for, has still sent shockwaves of grief through us all.

Life goes on – it has to. But there’s something very different about things today.

Jacques on the dangers of “drive-by charity”

It’s Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday and those in South Africa and beyond are being asked to donate 67 minutes of their time to a charity or good cause of some description in honour of the 67 years of Madiba’s struggle for human rights.
This annual request is a big thing in South Africa, because the birthday is a big thing in South Africa, because Mandela is a huge thing in South Africa. If you engage with anyone here via any means today, you will be asked what you are doing for your 67 minutes.

Daily Maverick Opinionista and all-round bearded intellectual Jacques Rousseau does have a word of warning for us though:

…even though nation-building exercises like Mandela Day can frequently appear to be little more than an excuse for some warm and fuzzy sentimentality, my hope is that this year – and today, July 18 – can remind us that 67 minutes of our time, on one day of the year, will probably make no difference at all.

It’s perhaps not meant to make a difference in any case – at least not in isolation, and not because of any particular activity you might perform during the 67 minutes that we’re being encouraged to donate, in honour of Mandela’s 67 years of service to South Africa. The 67 minutes spent assisting some charity or another will be appreciated, but are unlikely to make a lasting difference unless we use the day as motivation to become more engaged in general.

And, surprise surprise, once again he’s correct – at least, for me, in the most part.
All too often, people do their 67 minutes each year because they are afraid of being socially ostracised if they don’t, rather than out of any genuine sense of social duty. And yes, far more could be achieved and far more people helped if individuals extended their charitable work beyond 67 minutes and beyond July 18th each year. It would be nice if that happened.

But then that sentiment applies to a lot of things in this world which are never going to happen.

So, at risk of being accused of pessimism, but actually taking a more realistic stance, I’m all for “drive-by” charity if that’s all we’re going to get. Because any action is better than none and with so many people working for 67 minutes – even if it is just 67 minutes each year – stuff will happen. The scale here is important, sure, but with the most desirable outcome patently out of reach, doing something is surely better than doing nothing.

If you are going to do your 67 minutes today, well done. If you’re going to actually go back and do more before next July, then take a bow. But even if you fall into that former pool, you’ve done something and you’ve made some small difference. I don’t see any problem with that.

Max’s thoughts on Mandela’s death

I read this in yesterday’s Cape Times, but couldn’t find it anywhere online until this morning.
I’m reproducing it here in full because I feel that it’s a great read, bringing together a number of previously undocumented, yet actually fairly obvious ideas and notions around what will doubtless be a very emotional moment in time, and expressing them with objectivity and a great deal of common sense. Make time to read it.

One day he’ll bring us all together
I believe when people cry at the funeral of a loved one, they’re mostly not crying for the deceased, they’re crying for themselves. The death reminds them of their past lives, of their sadnesses and joys, of their own fragilities and mortality, of their apprehension of what lies ahead in their own lives.

We as South Africans and as people of the world know that Nelson Mandela is not going to be with us much longer. He will be 94 in July.

Not many people live that long. We have known for some time that he has become very frail.

And yet when he went to hospital again a few days ago, the headlines, comments and statements in the media proclaimed that the world was “holding its breath”, that his death would be “a trauma” to South Africans, that it would be a “dark day” for the country.

Yes, I will feel a great sadness when Mandela eventually goes. Yes, there will undoubtedly be a national and international outpouring of grief.

But it will not be because we’re sad because we’re actually going to miss him. We haven’t heard him speak for a long time. He hasn’t been a part of our political interaction for years. We’ve moved beyond missing him.

We will cry on the day of his death because it would bring back memories of an exceptional life; of the wonder of his leadership and great spirit that helped us find freedom and a democratic settlement. We will think back on the golden era of his presidency and most of us will quietly ponder how we failed to make the glimpses we saw then of a moral, cohesive and successful nation a reality.

But it will not be a dark day, nor will it be a traumatic day. And the remark made by a columnist that “the day Mandela dies is the end of freedom” is just nonsense.

I am deeply annoyed by the (white) columnists and commentators who still peddle the story that whites fear the day of Mandela’s death because it will bring about a mass slaughter of whites and land grabs such as happened in Zimbabwe. These writers should really get out more.

I know that the lunatic fringe on the extreme right told the story years ago that Mandela’s death would signal the “Night of the Long Knives” and a slide into anarchy. But I seriously doubt if more than a few dozen or a few hundred crazies still believe that myth.

I think I have a very good understanding of white attitudes – after all, some of my best friends are white South Africans.

I’m often disappointed in the poor understanding of our political dynamics demonstrated by so many whites and angry at the reactionary tendencies we often experience.

But I have a strong view that the overwhelming majority of white South Africans, while sceptical of some of the goings-on in the ruling party, have made peace with the new order and don’t seriously think a Zimbabwe-type situation here is at all likely.

Their pre-1994 fears of “black majority rule” have been put to rest as their quality of life has improved and they have been reassured that ours is probably the most stable country in the developing world.

Despite the occasional populist rants and raves from different sides, race relations, especially on a personal level, have never been better. Very few white lunatics still believe that the death of a long-retired politician could lead to a new civil war or complete anarchy.

I have a feeling that Mandela’s eventual death would bring about a rare moment of national unity between all groups and classes.

There are very few South Africans who did not love and admire Nelson Mandela. Mourning together will probably bring us the kind of feeling we had with the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 soccer World Cup. It will serve as a reminder to all of us what we could have been and should have been by now.

The culture of the last few years in and outside ANC circles to ask “what would Mandela have thought of this?” will probably, hopefully, continue. He represented the best in all of us as a people. The present ANC leadership’s war of attrition against our constitution and the judiciary started while Mandela was still alive.

We will have to counter that assault on the cornerstone of our democracy and remind the ANC that our constitution represents the legacy of our great national heroes Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu.

When the essence of our constitution is undermined, our stability, cohesion and freedom will be undermined.

I wish Mandela a gentle, comfortable life for as long as his body is willing. I hope he knows that his leaving us will be his last act of bringing his nation together once again.

Brilliant simplicity and sense.

Thanks Jacques