Not So Tjatjarag: Lacing my takkies for the longer walk

2013-12-08 10:00

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I am feeling decidedly odd and a bit at sea.

Now that I think of it, it’s a bit like I felt when my dad died. Like my earth moved a little.

My centre got shaken. Madiba’s is that sort of death.

We all feel we knew him so well and so personally.

He is, said President Jacob Zuma when announcing his death, an embodiment of what we’d all like to be.

It’s true: I want to be flirtatious and fun-loving and set fashion trends; I want to own simultaneously the identities of guerilla and peacemaker; I want to be a good South African, like Rolihlahla; I want to thumb my nose at fools, and hold the qualities of irascibility and delight equally.

Now what?

From the announcement of his death on Thursday, I have watched it play out live – on social media, television, radio and online.

Watching a live death is that much more painful, because you are not reading it through the careful distillation of editors who choose the emotions they will lace into narrative.

In another era, before 24-hour live television, there would have been some time to filter, reflect and feel more slowly.

Now it’s emotion on steroids as a nation, nay a world, mourns in high fidelity immediacy.

Through it, I’ve loved all the personal testimony.

There is not a soul I know who hasn’t written something, sent a tribute, dropped flowers, phoned a friend and felt moved by Madiba’s death.

He unites even as he departs.

Now what?

There’s a young lecturer, Anthony Prangley of the Gordon Institute of Business Science, who is a compass.

A while ago, he told me of his idea to keep walking – the symbol of which would be for us to wear our takkies to complete the long walk to freedom.

I’m not big on gimmicks and even getting me into a Bafana Bafana T-shirt is a mission. But I like the idea of lacing up my takkies and doing the work of learning, of turning this discombobulation I feel into something useful.

Before it happened, I was going to do a big feature on how far we have come in 20 years?...?and how far we still had to go.

Freedom has brought us great things: rising living standards across the board, electricity, running water and, more importantly, a sense of ourselves as free people.

For me, this idea of being free is a recent gift and a state I play with regularly, testing its boundaries and finding them, sometimes painfully.

There is a new green economy being shaped and a system of social security that is something we should all be proud of, for it speaks to a human solidarity that came straight out of the lesson book of Madiba and his generation of greats.

By and large, we get on, but my colleague posed an interesting question: Do we have much more than Nelson Mandela and braaiing in common?

I’d like to think we do. South Africans are loud and joyous, outspoken and tjatjarag.

Now what?

There is surely a common DNA we can all embroider on by reaching across what can seem like impermeable boundaries.

So, my bit of finishing the long walk is to find a form of journalism that builds somewhat more often and that finds the common touch points.

I can try harder to be comfortable with dualities and complexity, and paint my country in glorious technicolour, rather than the black-and-white lines I tend to.

As we stretch on those takkies to complete Madiba’s long walk to freedom, both trade unions and business must surely stop to reflect upon their hard stances in the face of tough times.

Both have calcified into radical positions of being anti too many things and being scared to negotiate in good faith.

Surely, in Mandela, we had the masterclass in negotiation. When to give, when to take, when to dig your heels in, when to yield.

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