Georgina Guedes

10 types of Mandela grievers

2013-12-13 13:20

Georgina Guedes

South Africans have reacted to the death of Madiba with a range of emotions that could only be expected from such a diverse and complex nation.

I've watched the empathy and support that South Africans have shown one another with a swelling heart. But as I've watched the sniping and sanctimonious attitudes of others, my heart has sunk that even our united grief has the ability to divide us.

Here are some of the leading types of grievers that I've encountered in the past week (other than his family and close friends who I've seen on the television):

"I met him once."
For many of the people who met Nelson Mandela in his lifetime, the meeting was one of the highlights of theirs. It's only natural that at the end of his life, those special moments will be shared - with supporting photographs if possible.

"I met him once, and my meeting was more significant than anyone else's."
Of course, with so many South Africans having met Madiba, more competitive souls will try to make their meeting more relevant and more moving than anyone else's. Instead of entering into their tale with a desire to share a story that’s important to them, they demand acknowledgement from everyone else that their experience was more moving than everyone else's.

"I know more about him than anyone else."
Journalists, historians and academics who have followed the life of Madiba naturally have a lot to say right now. Their views are entertaining and insightful, and their anecdotes are to be cherished, but they need to allow the rest of South Africa the space to express their own, less well informed grief as well.

"I am surprised by the magnitude of my grief."
I am among these. I am a sop. I cry in commercials. So I was expecting to shed a few tears when Mandela finally passed on. I dealt with the news itself with equanimity, but when I joined the crowds outside his Houghton home, I was unable to contain my sorrow. And in the week since his passing, I keep experiencing jolts of gut-twisting sadness that he’s no longer with us.

I think that many South Africans are going through this. Until we were confronted with the reality of his death, we hadn’t realised how attached we were to him as the father of our nation.

"I can't understand what all the fuss is about."
On the other hand, we have those pragmatists who acknowledge that he was a great man, but who knew this was coming and are unmoved by all the drama.  

"It is inappropriate to grieve how you are grieving."
Invariably, we have those who believe that their approach to grieving should be the only one, and that everyone else is doing it wrong. They feel that singing, dancing, wailing, crying, taking selfies or getting on with daily life are not acceptable under the circumstances, and behaviour should be modified in line with their expectations.

"I need to share my grief with others."
Because all South Africans are affected by the death of Mandela, there are those of us who will seek out the company of others to share the grief. Gatherings in public spaces, outside his homes or at other places of significance all mark the need of people to be with others who are going through the same thing.

"He died ages ago, but they've been keeping him alive so that his death would take the heat off Zuma at the right time."
I'm not going to devote too much energy to picking apart the conspiracy theories, other than to note that the burden of proof lies with the theorists, and right now, I’m not convinced.

"You do know he was a terrorist/communist/wife-beater?"
Although we have a tendency to make a saint out of Mandela, most South Africans know that he was a complex, flawed man. But he was also a man who shaped the future of our nation and created a place for all of us here. Raising his bad points in the wake of his death is in very poor taste. It’s like going to the funeral of a beloved uncle and imploring people to stop being so sad because he also had his bad points. Stop it.

"Good riddance to the architect of the downfall of our lovely apartheid."
Of course, there are these guys. Nothing much we can do about them, other than give them a wide berth and hope that they keep their voices down in public. The only thing that I have to say to them is that those who are grieving are not wrong or misguided, and should be allowed to do so without interference or contradiction. This is not the time.

Nelson Mandela touched the lives of all South Africans. He is a loss to us and to the rest of the world. Our country is what it is today because of him. I am pleased that I lived in his lifetime and that I’ve had the opportunity to share the unity that his life and death has brought with so many other South Africans.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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