Friends & Friction: Selfless soul of a nation

2013-12-11 10:00

It is one of those moments that will be etched forever in our lives. “Where were you when Nelson Mandela died?”

I remember exactly where I was when he was released from prison. It was an awkward feeling. I was at a friend’s house at Vergenoeg in KwaThema, Springs.

My friend’s older brother was angry, accusing Mandela of being a sellout who would negotiate the protection of white privilege.

I couldn’t argue in case he switched off the TV. My home was literally far enough.

So I endured his rant, which was competing with the commentator. My friend’s brother wanted military victory against the boers and I am sure he would have watched the parade from the comfort of his seat in his mother’s red sofa. Still, I understood his thinking.

When I was a kid our favourite poem was Africa My Beginning, Africa My Ending?by Ingoapele Madingoane. “They came from the West sailing to the East, with hatred and diseases flowing from their flesh,” it began. The poem called them “The Exploiters of Africa” and now Mandela was saying talk to them? “What treachery? For what? So he could be free?” asked the men who were sitting in their armchairs.

Mandela, who was commander of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, will never rank among top military leaders like Võ Nguyên Giáp, the Vietnamese commander who defeated Japan, France and the US.

I grew up at a time of liberation wars, an era of untold heroism when Africans with meagre means were defeating their colonial masters. Samora Machel had defeated the Portuguese, Robert Mugabe had defeated Great Britain and Sam Nujoma was toe-to-toe with South Africa. What? Negotiate with the boers? No, we wanted our own Arc de Triomphe. Well, Nelson Mandela made us triumphant.

He completely annihilated the dangers that catapulted him into greatness. He gave us a permanent and personal victory parade. Don’t look for structures; look at those that are gone. Look for the “whites-only” signs or the more crude ones that said: “No blacks and dogs allowed here.”

Remember when Eugene de Kock had a firm grip on the vortex of South Africa, stirring his men to throw people out of moving trains, and attacking women and children in their sleep.

The self-defence units asked for arms, but Mandela chose to avoid a firestorm. So if your house or that of your parents still stands and was never hit by a mortar like happened in Kosovo and in eastern Europe, that should remind you, as a monument would, that we won.

The best way to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela is not to mourn a loss – for death is inevitable – but to thank him for his fortitude to say and do the unpopular for no personal gain. Few people have the courage to do that these days. Mandela was South Africa at its best – courageous – which is why our youth could fight bullets with stones.

He was selfless like the thousands who laid down their lives for no financial gain. His children may well accuse him of being the stereotypical black father, namely, absent and cruel.

Look at how he ditched his two ex-wives. And look at how the South African government treats its own children within the education system. And look at how it treats its sick with a dying public health system.

Mandela’s greatness does not lie in any infallibility, but in the memory that we too are made in the image of God, and so we can create a world that is better than the one we’ve found.

» Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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