The Mandelas are just like us

2013-11-26 10:00

When you hear about a Mandela grandchild in the papers, you roll your eyes and say: “Oh brother, when are these kids going to get a job?”

They make great dinner table conversation, and were rich fodder this year during the illness of their patriarch, Nelson Mandela, a father we have appropriated as our own.

And how are we meant to feel good about our own lives if we can’t pronounce judgement on the first family?

Zoleka is easy to judge – her life in the tabloids started early. She was a teen mother in the 90s and a drug addict throughout the early 2000s.

Then there are the tragedies over which she had no control – the death of two of her children and a double mastectomy from cancer.

Now she’s 33 and has written all about it in her book, When Hope Whispers.

She stopped using drugs in 2010 after checking into rehab two months after the death of her teenage daughter in a car accident.

She lays bare the details of her sordid past, and hints at other details she says she’s not yet ready to fully unravel: the sexual and physical abuse she went through for most of her childhood, and the deep fractures in her relationship with her mother Zindzi Mandela.

“I must admit, I expected a brat,” said Shado Twala after she interviewed her at her book launch in Cape Town this week.

So did I. But Zoleka is sensitive, emotional and open.

It’s not an overstatement to call her choice to write and talk about her life courageous, especially as you can see how raw she still is.

She admits to prostituting herself for drugs.

“Most of the guys I dated were either dealers or did drugs. I had a boyfriend from whom I always left with four bags of cocaine, which I would use in the comfort of my mum’s home, and with my children in the other room.”

“What do you think of heaven?” Twala asked. “What do I think about heaven? It’s the one place I don’t think I’m going,” was her reply.

You would be wasting your time passing judgement on this Mandela as she’s doing enough of that herself.

I hope her book gives her the catharsis she needs.

But I also hope that it teaches us to have a bit of compassion for the Mandela children, whom we can be very callous towards.

We’re callous because we believe the progeny of Nelson Mandela should live up to his saint-like status.

During Madiba’s illness, I was astounded by our need to dictate how the family ought to experience loss, as though there is ever any dignity in facing death.

If you have lost a loved one, you’ll know how ugly death is, how roughly it rips.

We’ve always struggled to reconcile Mandela with his progeny – no one wants to see the name of their hero tarnished.

But strip away the politics and you’ll see that the Mandela family is no different from your own.

The children are essentially broken. They had absent and divorced parents just like many of us.

I hate worshipping heroes, but when it comes to the Mandelas, we are all guilty.

I hate it because it blinds us to the grey areas of life, and therefore makes us unfeeling toward the things or people that do not fit that picture.

When you bring people down from their pedestals, you’re able to understand their humanity.

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