A symbol of freedom

2013-06-16 10:00

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

By living lives of volunteerism and service, we honour Madiba’s name, writes Ferial Haffajee.

This was the week we moved from “if” to “when” in considering a world without Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s global icon.

It has been a week spent in limbo and unease as the tone of communication from government has altered to acknowledge the seriousness of the statesman’s hospitalisation.

By Wednesday, when he responded to medication, you could almost hear South Africa exhale.

It was his sixth hospitalisation since January 2011.

The frequency of his admissions has picked up as the former president fights a lung infection, possibly recurrent pneumonia, which is very common in older people.

At 94, while his name is already immortal, the man himself is also profoundly, painfully and humanly mortal.

It felt as though we began to accept it this week.

We are getting used to the pattern of Madiba’s aging now, and his stays in hospital are getting longer: from one night in January 2011, to 19 nights in December 2012 and then 11 nights in March this year.

The country and the world were on tenterhooks this week as the media reported vigils at the Pretoria hospital, his city home in Houghton, Johannesburg, and his ancestral home in Qunu.

News of Mandela’s health led on all the major news networks, which are setting up elaborate operations in the event of his death.

It is going to be a moment as profound as the statesman’s release from prison, when he began the journey from South African freedom fighter to global icon of peace and statesmanship.

South Africans have this week vented their anger at images of the television networks setting up shop outside the hospital – but this does not acknowledge how Mandela is ours as much as he is globally owned and known.

President Jacob Zuma did well to drive home this point in Parliament.

Until recently, Mandela relished and thrived in his world acclaim and his jet set life.

He happily took on the role of a leader who had surpassed the confines of national boundaries or geography.

In this, he is a Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Winston Churchill, Aung San Suu Kyi, Teddy Roosevelt, Che Guevara or Mother Teresa – a leader whose life offers lessons beyond the nation state that gave them birth and in which they grew.

We may as well get used to it and appreciate that Mandela, in many ways, means freedom.

This week, one of the stream of visitors to his home, in explaining what had brought her there with a classroom of young people who had come to sing him better, said: “To me, he means freedom.”

Mandela remains a symbol of freedom; a symbol of South Africa’s unshackling from its apartheid past.

If you report carefully on why South Africans get so very anxious every time Mandela gets ill, you may find a fear that apartheid will return if he is gone.

It’s not rational, but it is a real emotion.

For other South Africans, he is the keeper of the peace; the crucible holding the fear of what black majority rule can mean for the formerly powerful.

This week, flowers, mementoes and messages were placed at Mandela’s homes and outside the hospital where he is receiving treatment.

His cross-racial, intergenerational and multinational appeal was clear. Black, white, young, old and a few foreign visitors came to wish him well.

If we think about it, Nelson Mandela has been preparing us for his exit for years – he has weaned us well, like a loving parent.

First, there was his decision to serve only a single term.

The jury is out on whether this was because he quite enjoyed the jet set, global-statesman life or whether he wanted to make a point to African leaders who used to hang on to high office for dear life. But he ushered in a period of regular elections and power change in South Africa, and encouraged a continental shift.

The presidencies of both Thabo Mbeki and Zuma have made us a more normal democracy and have ensured the growth of a healthy, open political society with a vital civil society.

If Mandela had stayed for two terms, South Africa might not have developed into a more mature democracy as quickly and might have leaned too heavily on his person.

The excellent Nelson Mandela Foundation has already made clear what the icon wants by way of legacy.

Notwithstanding the statue at Nelson Mandela Square, he does not want a legacy cast in copper, concrete or marble, no monuments or highways, but a living legacy of volunteerism and service.

What better direction can we ask for as a nation?

As we begin the long clamber up his shoulders to work out how we complete the long walk to freedom, Mandela has shown us how.

It is ours to do, to serve, to give and to complete the work of freedom.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.