Insure your car, home and valuables with iWYZE
President Jacob Zuma delivered a Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture in Limpopo the other night amid chaos, confrontation, T-shirt tearing and police tear gas – all evidence of simmering tension within the ruling party five months before the Mangaung elective conference.
If these are signs of the things to come, well, Heaven help us all. For, if a president should address “his” people under heavy police guard, what has happened to the unguarded hand-shakes, free comradely hugs and the usual laps before the crowds? Are we seeing a president who has gradually lost support among those who catapulted him to power or, as some would argue, witnessing a total collapse of discipline in the ruling party? Whichever way one looks at it, the wheels are coming off.
As captain, if he doesn’t rescue the ship, history will always associate him with the wreckage. By omission or commission, Zuma is the embodiment of all that characterises the present-day ANC.
This is a subject I intend to revisit in detail in the near future.
For now, though, the man I want to turn my focus to is Zuma’s earlier leader, Mandela. Speaking about the impact of Mandela on our body politic in Limpopo on Tuesday night, Zuma pointed out the wisdom of our first democratically-elected president, who had successfully led the ANC through complicated and sensitive negotiations with the former apartheid government leaders in the early 1990s. Indeed, Mandela cemented his statesmanship status when he skilfully managed to calm down national anger following the assassination of SA Communist Party chief Chris Hani in 1993.
Reluctantly, but commendably, apartheid’s last president FW De Klerk handed over the reigns to Mandela, who in essence demonstrated to both black and white South Africans what kind of a president he would be the next year, in 1994.
The world, too, witnessed in Mandela the emergence of a new breed of African leadership – self-assured, dignified and visionary. But Mandela’s greatest impact and legacy has undoubtedly been to walk out of 27 years of incarceration with no trace of bitterness, genuinely embracing his captors. Until his last day in public office, Mandela stuck to his reconciliation project.
This does not mean there were no situations which could have tempted him to put aside reconciliation. Notably, the train violence in the then Reef (now Gauteng) townships, the Boipatong massacre in the Vaal, the sporadic fatal attacks on innocent mourners at night vigils in the townships, the arms supply by the apartheid government to the IFP, all these were adequate to cause Mandela to give up.
This, then, years after he has quit active politics and is now enjoying his final years at Qunu village in the Eastern Cape, continues to form an integral part of Mandela’s amazing story.
Such is the enormous power of his story that the world governing body, the UN, has declared his birthday – July 18 – a global Mandela Day, during which the human good triumphs over the human bad. The 67 minutes individuals are requested to put aside and offer assistance to the most needy are in recognition of Mandela’s 67 years of dedication to public service.
But Mandela himself has often attempted to point out his personal human short-comings. His detractors blame him for “selling out” the black majority during the negotiated settlement he led on behalf of the ANC. The so-called “Sunset clauses” which, for example, guaranteed that there would be nothing extracted from the wealth of white people, accumulated unjustly during many years of apartheid, are regarded as one the defects of the negotiated settlement. The other was the guaranteeing of employment and retention of positions in the civil service by white people.
At a more personal level, Mandela has had his fair share of failings, too. Most notable has been his two failed marriages – the first to Evelyn and the second to Winnie. Yet Mandela’s charm, charisma and grounded political leadership qualities have had not only South Africans from all walks of life gushing, but the entire universe too, it seems.
As we prepare to celebrate yet another milestone in the life of Mandela, when the ol’ man will be turning 94 in a week’s time, the common sense in us compels us to look at the inspiration of Mandela. By his own admission he is far from squeaky-clean, and yet it remains his fallibility which makes him such an extraordinary person.
Some of the lessons we can learn from his book include the fact that we should never allow evil to triumph over good. It is clear that the burden of hatred is far heavier than the load of love.
Happy birthday, tata. May your memories last long after you’re gone.
o Makoe is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Royal News Services.