Max Du Preez
Max Du Preez

One day he'll bring us all together

By Max du Preez, The Pale Native Time of article published Feb 28, 2012

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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.

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