Mandela’s memorial was a shambles of an event

2013-12-11 16:27

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A disheartened Lesley Mofokeng bemoans the half-baked tribute paid to Nelson Mandela at Joburg’s FNB Stadium yesterday

It was on your marks, get set and flop at the FNB Stadium yesterday.

After a few false starts and our realisation that Nelson Mandela would not be with us for much longer, we expected South Africans to be prepared, at least logistically, when it came to the sad time of his farewell.

But the momentous occasion of a memorial celebrating the life of the greatest South African who ever lived was reduced to a comedy of errors and became a cringeworthy affair.

It has been reported that the sign language interpreter was speaking another language probably understood only on Mars. But the shambles didn’t end there. An opportunity to market our country and prove to the world that Africa could do it was marred by a substandard production.

I got to the FNB Stadium expecting a slick production befitting our beloved statesman and instead witnessed a half-baked attempt of a tribute.

Granted, Kirk Franklin’s performance of his stirring My Life Is In Your Hands lifted me to a place where angels reside and US President Barack Obama’s eulogy was beautiful, but that’s what we have come to expect from this amazing orator. And that was about it.

No sooner had I settled into my seat than I realised that we South Africans are an ill-disciplined bunch with no sense of occasion.

This was meant to be a sombre event commanding dignity and respect from all who were attending, but the wholesale disregard for the speeches delivered dampened my spirits. No amount of shooing or pleading could quieten down the marauding crowds which included a choo-choo train that went up and down the stadium singing while the speeches were in progress.

The acoustics in the stadium were appalling to put it mildly. The sound from the speakers was easily drowned out by the feisty singers and dancers. They were determined to outperform everyone and fly in the face of the decorum that the day commanded.

In the end, those in the stadium could not hear the glowing tributes or they only heard half because of the poor sound. I got to read Obama’s speech online because I had only heard bits and pieces of it in the stadium.

The big screens that were supposed to beam the proceedings kept freezing and a picture of Madiba flashed randomly, even that looked like a last-minute idea. It would have been smarter to have had a collage of images of the former state president in celebration of a life well lived and not one or two awkwardly flashed up on screen.

The programme, hosted by two political heavyweights, ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and chairperson Baleka Mbete, was dominated by speeches.

Mandela is known to have loved music and dancing and the stage should have been set for an explosion of song and dance by the country’s finest performers.

I could understand the frustration and uneasiness of the booing crowd who were not given enough of a chance to sing and dance for their hero.

The selection of the music performed left much to be desired. Even the power of Sibongile Khumalo, the empress of song, failed to raise the roof with her rendition of Plea for Africa. I think she should have performed something more upbeat, spiritual and stirring.

As for Baleka Mbete’s attempt to sing Nelson Mandela (Ha yo ya tshwanang le Ena) and in the process butchering Sotho words? I felt bad for her.

Mbete also mispronounced the names of the overseas dignitaries. She seemed more concerned with ensuring that the cloak around her shoulders wouldn’t fall off.

There were three stages erected on the pitch and I sat behind them with a full rear view of the movements and activities.

I don’t know what it looked like on TV, but the stage on which the artists performed was incomplete. I could see the musicians huddling in a corner under umbrellas seeking shelter from the rain. The stage only had a cover at the top, it was half-covered on the side and the rest was left open, exposing artists like Sibongile Khumalo and PJ Powers to the elements.

The bereaved family was put on a stage without any side covers. You’d think they would be put on a respectable stage with the sides covered on a rainy day with a cold wind blowing. Instead the Mandelas, all dressed up in their finery, had to hold up umbrellas to keep the rain and wind at bay.

The Mandela family had to rely on umbrellas to protect them from the cold wind and rain because the stage was not properly covered. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake/City Press

The main stage from which the speeches were delivered appeared like an incomplete puzzle. Interestingly, its sides were covered by bulletproof glass and didn’t leave the dignitaries at the mercy of the elements.

All this might seem insignificant, but it points to poor planning and mediocre production values on a day when South Africa should have shone. Mandela deserved much better than this.

When the world is your stage, you had better make sure that you shine the brightest. This is a lesson I hope that South Africans will take from Mandela’s memorial.

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