Howard Feldman

Who gets to mess with Mandela?

2018-07-18 16:05

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In one of the more irreverent and entertaining tweets I have stumbled across, “Bra Suffocate” wrote: “UCT now has a Mandela School of Public Governance. Everything is just named after Mandela now. I am going to call my bedroom ‘Nelson Mandela institute of romance, rest and relaxation’. Then I am going to have an opening ceremony and cut ribbons and stuff.” 

He went on to say that he intends to invite Thuli Madonsela and Barack Obama to speak at the opening.

If that wasn’t enough, “Bra Suffocate” went on to explain that Mandela was a lover too: He led in the bedroom before he led anywhere else (apparently), and that leadership starts in the bedroom. 

A wave of entrepreneurial possibility the struck him, and he suggested opening chapters of the “Nelson Mandela Institute of Romance, Rest and Relaxation”. The possibilities seemed endless with him also considering turning his kitchen into “The Mandela Centre for Nourishment and Replenishment”.

Twitter loved this, as did I, and I my fingers and my mind itched to get involved in the conversation. I had so many suggestions, I hardly even knew where to start. It spoke my language on so many levels. Until I realised that as a white male my witticisms might not be particularly well received in a thread that had no white males as contributors. I suspected that my presence would most likely not be helpful or my humour considered all that funny. 

And sadly, I get that. Even though I am not sure that I agree with it.

So, I stood on the side-lines and watched (and enjoyed) the thread from afar. 

A few months ago, I interviewed well-known South African author Nechama Brodie on my radio show. It was around the time when the Miss South Africa pageant was taking place. I was incredibly confused about the Miss World and Miss Universe thing and even about the whole concept of these events. Although it was by no means the focus of the interview, I wondered out loud why beauty competitions were still a thing. It was at that point that Nechama looked at me (she might have even wagged her finger, but I can’t recall that for certain) and said, “You don’t get to have an opinion on this.” 

And sadly, I get that. Even though I am not sure that I agree with it. 

I also get that whereas I might be horrified about the spate of attacks at various mosques across South Africa, my empathy needs to be expressed as such and that my view as to why I think this might be happening and suggestions around the prevention would set me on unstable ground.

In the same way, the rise in antisemitism in South Africa is something that should concern all the country’s citizens, but how that is communicated by those who don’t suffer from the prejudice of Jew hatred, might evoke the opposite response to that which they intended.

For years Nelson Mandela has been safe and solid ground. South Africans across the racial and religious divide loved him and looked up to him. He was, and still is, an icon of reconciliation and of hope and an example of what it means to lead with positivity and not with anger and hatred.

This does not mean that he was perfect. The death of his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela highlighted this. Since then South Africans have grappled with the notion that despite his status, Mandela remained distinctly human and that as much as he is adored and revered, those around him paid a significant price. To me this makes him all the more worthy of respect.

The Twitter conversation that I was not part of, highlighted the fact that Mandela’s memory is no longer a sacred cow. It highlighted the notion that we should not overstate his memory by naming everything after him, and that we should try and see the lighter side of our obsession. At the same time, we should continue to honour him while accepting that he was imperfect. 

The conversation that I was not part of also highlighted that as much as we believe that Mandela’s memory belongs to all South Africans, some of us still need to be careful how we contribute to the conversation. 

And sadly, I get that. 

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the daily breakfast show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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