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Manfred Phesto
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The Politics of Memory and Commemoration in a Post-Mandela South Africa

11 December 2013, 08:01

“If we want to remain faithful to Mandela’s legacy, we should thus forget about celebratory crocodile tears and focus on the unfulfilled promises his leadership gave rise to. We can safely surmise that, on account of his doubtless moral and political greatness, he was at the end of his life also a bitter, old man, well aware how his very political triumph and his elevation into a universal hero was the mask of a bitter defeat. His universal glory is also a sign that he really didn’t disturb the global order of power.” -Slavoj Zizek

It’s on all the channels – wall-to-wall FNB stadium baby. They’ve got the big-screen on inside, and with all the cheering and vuvuzelas the proceedings take on the air of a spectator sport. A man – President Obama no less – catches sight of himself on the screen and waves, smiling, at the assembled masses. Sagacious Zuma makes Namaste to an unseen individual in the wings of the presidential booth. Ramaphosa appeals for discipline, and the waiting heads of state and assorted dignitaries run through their “hastily assembled” speeches one last time.

The blanket coverage has itself come under scrutiny. Flooding on the English coast on Friday killed two people when they were so focused on the news of the great man’s death that they didn’t realise they were drowning. The BBC received “over a thousand” complaints about the lack of flood coverage, and some even went so far as to suggest that better coverage of the flooding might have alerted the two unfortunate victims as to their predicament and might thus have saved their lives.

Oh! There’s Bill Clinton on the bleachers near Ed Miliband. They’re all here now – strike God, strike, and take out the neo-liberal agenda once and for all! Just kidding, that hardly fits the tone of proceedings. Boos are enough, yes boo. At least two things are certain: Sarkozy is quite cosy with Mr Hollande, and Bobface Mugabe is sadder than Morgan Tsvangurai. George taps Bill on the shoulder. Little do they know.

So much does this macabre display confound and disturb me that I call up my old bud Slavoy for an explanation. I’ve known him for a few years, you see, and while it was the curiously erotic combination of his lisp and Slovenian accent that attracted me to him initially, I quickly discovered that he also had some quite obtuse – and therefore, obviously, vitally interesting – ideas about things. So I call up my man Slavoy, and I’m like:

“Man this shit about Kanye West’s cameo in Anchorman 3 is bumming me out dude. Also, what the fuck is up with this Mandela commemoration thing? Are you telling me his memory is being appropriated by a neo-colonial crypto-fascist elite, that he’s being mythologised to such obscene extent that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make out anything of the real man? I mean how was he anything like Gandhi, dude?”

SLAV: “Itsh like thish. Kanye Wesht hash trancshended mere mushic. I mean, lishen to hish new shit. Itsh terrible. Go and watch hish appearansh in Kim K’sh boobsh’ mushic video. Itsh clearly no longer about the shound, man, you getsh me? He wash ashked to perform at the memorial, and he wash jusht like ‘No Bitcsh’! You Shee?”

ME: “I think so home-fry.”

SLAV: “And ash for thish Mandela shit, right now itsh like watcshing those dogsh. You know, thoshe ghetto dogs, township dogsh – you know mongrelsh – its like watcshing a whole pack of them trying to roll in the shame little patcsh of shit. It’sh cannibalishm, they want hish preshtige, they want to shqueeze out ash mucsh political capital as they can from the shituashion. I’ve got to go now, Obama’sh on. Cshat latersh, man.”

Obama’s talking about the “essential truth” of the man, which I think is quite ironic. Not that I’m calling him a liar – well, actually yes I am. Oh shit! He just name-dropped Martin Luther King and Kennedy – its all cold-war up in here. Abe Lincoln, future generations, democracy, rule of law. Step down from power. Pause and reflect. Touch, pause, reflect! Crocodile tears, squeezed out by a mass-murderer. “That’s why we learned so much from him.” You ain’t learned nothing dawg. For some reason I think what we have forgotten far outweighs what Obama and his ilk would have us remember. Rain trickles down the glass back of the armour-plated vestibule and the faces of the common people outside appear as brown smudges in a sea of indistinct moving shape and colour. They are obscured occasionally by the form of a member of somebody’s security detail, energetically pacing his beat.

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