As South Africa commemorated her favourite son under the scrutiny of a global audience, very few knew what to expect. The event, showered with blessings through the hollowed roof of the FNB Stadium, and the crowd torn between mourning and celebration; the many international guests who graced our beloved calabash added the extra glitz to the spectacle. Apart from family tributes, Barrack Obama’s powerful speech, ‘coats and uncoats’ as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s condemning yet comical chamois at the end, very little else sparked the occasion. However, what was evident to everyone was how President Jacob Zuma got booed by a disgruntled faction of the crowd.
This of course sent social media abuzz as many were left cringing as mourners showed their discontent towards the South African President. As global personalities received affectionate responses from the crowd, with Zuma’s predecessor former President Thabo Mbeki receiving one of the biggest cheers, our nation’s president got booed every time he appeared on the screen. In fact, even the last Apartheid president, FW De klerk, was cheered on by the buoyant crowd.
Heir to Zuma’s throne, Cyril Ramaphosa, valiantly tried to stop the booing. However, it became clear that the once loved “people’s president” is probably the least popular African National Congress (ANC) president in the organisation’s one hundred year history. In fact, the last time I saw an ANC president being booed at a political event was at the ANC’s policy conference in Polokwane when Zuma supporters booed Mbeki a little over five years ago.
The incident at Mandela’s memorial service has put the ANC under immense pressure ahead of next year’s national election. At a time when the ANC has been challenged to rejuvenate itself and reproduce leaders of the calibre of the late Mandela, president Zuma’s reception from the crowd has certainly intensified those challenges. Under Jacob Zuma the ANC is the weakest it has ever been and has been marred by scandal.
It then comes as no surprise that South Africans have had enough and want a change of leadership. It is the great man Nelson Mandela himself who once said, “If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you. Do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.”
I sympathise with the Mandela family for being caught in the crossfire in their time of despair. However, I applaud the booers for the way in which they honoured our beloved Madiba. For if the ceremony is what it was, a celebration of Mandela and his ideals, we immediately see that that which happened at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, is exactly what he dedicated his life to. He gave us a voice and at his memorial, the booers used it.
Seeing how Mandela lived his life and how selfless and devoted to the ANC he was, it is without a doubt that for a better South Africa and for a strong and corrupt free ANC, he would have given up whatever symbolic dignity that the booers stripped him of and welcomed all embarrassment necessary, on a day set to celebrate him.
If there was any disrespect towards the fallen tree, it came the day after when he lay in state. For a man who stood for respect and diversity, he deserved a lot more respect than that which he received. In Xhosa culture, when women view the deceased body of an elder, especially of royal decent, out of respect, women must cover their hair. Secondly, dresses and skirts should be of a dignified length. On the part of men, it is very disrespectful to view a fallen elder without a jacket. Added to this, a fair number of police officials and army viewed uDalibhunga with hats on their heads. If any dignity has been stripped from the late former president Nelson Mandela, it happened not at his memorial, but the day after, at the viewing.
Instead of castigating the booers the ANC ought to ask itself why its president got booed on an event such as Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. They need to ask themselves whether or not Madiba would have approved with how the party and the country are governed. As an organisation that is now more obligated than ever to live out Dalibhunga’s ideals, the ANC needs to ask itself whether the man leading it is the type of leader that Tambo, Mandela, Sisulu and all the other greats would have gladly served under. If not, then the ANC needs to do to Zuma what it did to Mbeki or risk their fortunes at the ballot.
To the booers, your efforts were brave and daring, similar to the man who sacrificed everything for our nation. You went against decorum and cried out for the sake of our democracy. Mandela too did not always observe protocol. In front of the whole world, your contribution to our democracy was seen and heard. On a day set to celebrate the founding father of our democracy, you spoke out against those who threaten to kill that very democracy. For that, you noble booers, I thank you. You have bestowed unto Nelson Mandela the greatest honour.
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