‘There is no Casanova without a weakness’

2008-07-19 00:00

Yesterday, as South Africa, together with the rest of the world, celebrated the birth of Nelson Mandela, I could not help but think how he will be remembered. A Zulu proverb goes Alikho isoka elingena sici (there is no Casanova without a weakness).

It is well documented how Mandela, together with the likes of Oliver Tambo and others, started the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and how he, with his fellow accused, was sentenced to life imprisonment during the Rivonia trial.

It is also well documented how he and other liberation fighters in prison, together with others inside and outside the country, put pressure on the government of the day as they fought for the freedom and equality that a lot of people now take for granted. Some paid with their lives — Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Sabelo Phama, the Pebco three and many others.

He led what was the first democratic dispensation in the history of this country. This was probably the most peaceful transition in the history of the continent of Africa.

However, what is less well known and seldom written about when Mandela’s legacy is discussed is how he failed to deal firmly with corruption in government and how the seeds of corruption spread like wildfire in the years following his presidency.

The arms deal is a case in point. One of his charity organisations has often been cited as an alleged beneficiary of a R500 000 donation from one of the arms deal bidders and subsequent winners. He has never spoken about this or been requested to say something in this regard.

After all, who would have the balls to charge and convict Mandela, especially if some of the arms deal thieves are still in Parliament? He also showed dictatorial tendencies when he arbitrarily announced the suspension of Umkhonto Wesizwe without any consultation with the military wing’s leaders or its cadres. It was a good thing that its leaders (the likes of Chris Hani and Siphiwe Nyanda) were as disciplined as they were as hell nearly broke loose.

Before and while he was president, Mandela visited communities across our vast and diverse country but when he “retired”, he retired from engaging with the normal “Joe Soap” and focused on the international superstars who could pay their way to see him.

A Zwelibanzi Diko from Qunu or a Ntabakayikhonjwa Simelane from kwaMaphumulo cannot just show up at his exclusive Houghton residence and ask to see Mandela. Such a request, like many others before, would be turned down. However, a Naomi Campbell or a Bono can just show up and pay his or her way to see Mandela in front of the world media.

It sounds like a transaction at a vending machine. Faka imali uzobona as we say in Zulu (insert money and you will see). It has a nice ring to it too. The day he dies will be the day many will see the bigger picture.

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