File photo: Reuters
File photo: Reuters

Disruptions a reflection of our society

Time of article published Dec 16, 2013

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The disruptions during our mourning period for Nelson Mandela remind us we have a duty to complete the mission which Tata started, writes Eusebius McKaiser

Johannesburg - What an emotional maelstrom the past ten days have been for us saying goodbye to our founding father, a true global citizen, Nelson Mandela.

Emotions have swung wildly between dancing displays of ecstasy in celebration of a life filled with exceptional human achievement, to melancholic tears flowing freely like the rains that poured down at his memorial service.

I quickly realised after news of Mandela’s passing was announced by President Jacob Zuma late last Thursday evening that despite years of media planning for how to cover “The Mandela Project” which no one dared speak about in media circles openly, that death has its own grip on us.

It is impossible to be emotionally distant from his death, even as a media professional.

His loss felt, and still feels, very personal to me. It keeps reminding me of the loss of my mom.

Such has been the ubiquitous presence of Madiba in our lives.

And in the end, really, trotting out well-edited audio, printing carefully sculpted print media writing that had been gathering dust for years, and hitting the play button on archived television material helped us, but was bound to be inadequate.

You cannot rehearse for Nelson Mandela’s death.

You could not.

We now know.

It’s simply been a time to celebrate and mourn spontaneously, freely in the multiple ways familiar to us here at the tip of Africa in memory of a full life.

Watching his final walk to heavenly freedom yesterday filled me with enormous pride. It was a march to the graveyard that overflowed with dignity, the very dignity inherent in every South African for which Madiba had fought so hard to have recognised.

But the keen observer might have noticed some interesting disruptive moments last week that are worth putting in the memory bank, to be retrieved in the weeks ahead. Three of these remain with me.

The first happened at the state memorial service for Mandela held last Tuesday at FNB Stadium in Soweto, the same stadium where the World Cup opening ceremony happened.

While all the dignitaries, including local politicians and countless heads of state, received warm applause from the crowd, Zuma was booed.

A second disruptive moment is that while he was blessing the crowd at the end of the memorial service, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu would have been unaware that his house was being burgled in Cape Town.

A third, more subtle disruptive moment, is an observation that had been made by The Guardian writer, Gary Younge.

He remarked that few white people were at the stadium, far fewer than the percentage of whites who make up the country’s demographics.

I have been asked about these kinds of incidents, and observations, whether they are embarrassing or even whether they are jarring in a week when only mourning, and celebration, should happen?

’Tis not the time for a full essay response here. But as a relatively young South African, I am not disturbed by these little disruptions.

In fact, I find them poignant.

The booing of the president is a beautiful testimony to a country that has developed a democratic culture, the very democratic culture that Mandela had fought for, had gone to jail for.

It might have been poor etiquette, but simultaneously the booing was an affirmation of what Mandela’s life was about: fighting for the right of black South Africans to never again be silenced.

Similarly, the fact that a burglary happened at Tutu’s house isn’t embarrassing.

It is a rude, disruptive reminder that Mandela’s legacy is not a finished product.

Crime is a reality.

Criminals care less for remembering Mandela than their next fix.

And that criminal act was a useful reminder that after yesterday’s burial the project of searching for, and working towards, social justice must continue.

As for Younge’s observation, the tragic truth is that apartheid geography is alive and well in South Africa. Mandela’s people are not yet fully integrated.

So why expect authentic evidence of that at his memorial?

So I am proud of how we have again dug deep to transcend differences in our collective mourning and celebrating of Mandela’s death, and his legacy. I am equally unfazed by the disruptive moments we experienced.

These keep us honest: celebrate Mandela’s legacy but do not fool yourselves.

Mandela’s legacy is yet to be fully realised.

But in his death we have new found inspiration to remember him best, not through quoting his famous words, but now living the values he embodied.

Thank you, Madiba.

And goodbye.

* McKaiser hosts Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser on Power 98.7. He is author of the best-selling collection of essays A Bantu In My Bathroom

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers

The Star

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