Dashiki Dialogues: Meaning in a post-Mandela era

2013-12-24 10:00

And so, as we approach the year’s end, we also enter a new era as South Africans: a time dogged by much speculation and all sorts of divination.

It’s an era we can call “post-Mandela”.

If you’ve made it across into this period, allow me to quote Lesego Rampolokeng, a poet who has nursed a dream of war since the previous era: “Welcome to the new consciousness; we utilise everyone.”

There are voices galvanised to direct how best to ride the winds that will surely shape our walk into the new age.

These chattering voices contest the meaning of Madiba, whose life and death is used to mark our time.

Some assail us with lectures of how the departed elder was a great revolutionary who, in his youth, chose the path of war as the best route towards peace (Mandela was the founding commander in chief of Umkhonto weSizwe, the guerrilla military wing of the ANC).

Others insist he was a cuddly and peaceful man, a great reconciler who presided over our great transition from apartheid to democracy.

In the back and forth of interpretation, the man has faded into a cloud of myth and acquires many guises.

The result is that various sections of our rainbow nation embrace different parts of Madiba’s achievements as essential to who he was.

Further, these particular sections of our society insist that their preferred vision of the man is indispensable to his legacy.

In other words, they employ a fervour akin to that reserved for biblical interpretation to have us believe they know which lessons are indispensable to understanding Madiba’s “magic”.

Others have even suggested that this desire of many people (especially the previously oppressed) for a singular saintly notion of the man resists the facts of politics and history.

They suggest that it refuses to hear the truth of who and what Madiba really was.

This because of an innate need for certainty against the ­anxiety that afflicts some members of the nation.

It is an anxiety that finds its source in the secretly nettled knowledge that for our beloved Tata’s legacy to truly survive, for his call to reconciliation and for his call to forgiveness, there will have to be a balancing of books.

The nation knows that for us to rest peacefully with Madiba in our memory, we must learn to pronounce that invulnerable phrase: historic wealth redistribution.

Our grammar of peace remains dogged by the lexicon of a bloodied history.

Hence, as we take the next steps into our pregnant eternity in wonder, we are to clothe ourselves in a sober dashiki fit for a candid dialogue of who we are to become.

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