Khaya Dlanga

Madiba is no mascot

2010-07-14 12:00

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As happy as I was to see Nelson Mandela on the field waving to the almost 90 000 people in the stadium, and to the hundreds of millions watching the closing ceremony of the Soccer World Cup, my heart sank equally so.

It was moving to see this great man in the twilight of his long years still serving us despite the fact that he didn’t have to.

As he waved and smiled we were faced with what we knew is coming deep in our hearts. We all knew that we don’t have him for long. We soaked up every ounce of him for those few, cold Johannesburg moments.

We tried to ignore the glaring reality because we don’t want to face it. The next time the world will be in such unison might well be the day we bid our final goodbyes to him. I am literally tearing up just thinking about that unthinkable reality.

This man who, literally and figuratively, emerged from prison unbent in every way imaginable. Over the years his eminence has reached mythical proportions. At the risk of sounding blasphemous it could be said that his stature is almost biblical. Even those earthly figures like the Dalai Lama and the Pope who are here to represent the things of heaven are not esteemed as he is.

Not waving...

My heart sank as I saw Graça Machel tell him how to wave. As he rested his arms she would tell him to lift his other hand to the crowd, and like the dutiful servant he is to his people, wave he did. Again his arm would rest on his lap from old age and tiredness; and at times she would lift his hand and almost show him how to wave.

It was sad. I was heart broken. We all know that Graça Machel meant well - she meant no ill will - but it didn’t look right. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Someone on Twitter even said, “How is it that Graça is teaching Madiba how to wave?” The tweet said what we were thinking.

It’s very difficult to criticise someone one admires, especially one who has accomplished for the world as much as Graça Machel. You begin to ask yourself, ‘What have I done, what have I contributed to think what I am thinking?’ It is not so much a criticism as an observation.

My grandmother passed away at the grand old age of ninety-five years old over two years ago. I know what old people are like. I understand the difficulties of getting the elderly to comprehend and understand and hear, but there is a way of dealing with them in a manner that does not appear to diminish their dignity. 

Perhaps it looked the way it did because of the man we once knew him to be. Strong, bold and unbent. Maybe it was just the difficulty of accepting that he is only human, and like any man old-age can catch up, no matter who you are. Maybe I didn’t like seeing him vulnerable even though he admitted his vulnerabilities to us over and over again.

When Oprah called him almost flawless during an interview on her show he said, “I have many flaws, some of which are very fundamental.” In other words, I am a man, like any man, don’t make me what I am not.

Leave him be


I just hope that we leave him in peace now that the World Cup is over. It is time we let him rest. He is not a mascot that needs to dragged out every time we need one.

I am in conflict because I was glad to see him on the field, he saw a glimpse of what he and others struggled for. He was there. By himself. His friends and his comrades have fallen. The members of the High Order who were with him in prison, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba are all gone.

It is as if he is doing what he did all over again before he was released - he refused to be released from prison first, he demanded that the aforementioned comrades be released before he was. He was the last to take the Long Walk to Freedom. Again this time, he will be the last of these great ANC giants to go. 

As we are about to celebrate Mandela Day, let us not forget what this great man and his comrades did. Let us also remember that Mandela Day shouldn’t really be about him, it should also be his comrades who without we wouldn’t have a Mandela.

Lastly, I would like to thank Graça Machel for bringing happiness to the last days of his life.

Now, let’s let him be. 

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