Our old man, our sage, is almost 93 years old.
For his age, Madiba is in great shape. “He surprises us every day with his powers of recovery,” said Surgeon-General Vejay Ramlakan.
This he owes to a life that until recently included early morning contemplative walks, a healthy diet and a beautiful mind.
But, as is the case for all elders who get past their ninth decade, the body fades.
And Madiba is accepting his ageing with the greatest of graces, we were told on Friday.
And even with humour. He was, said Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, joking with nurses at Milpark Hospital, where he was hospitalised with a respiratory tract infection.
And in those words, the greatest of graces, lay the direction the nation sought this week as we came asunder in a tinder-box of rumour and panic.
Nobody in our founding president’s circles of family, military, his Foundation, the government nor the governing ANC had a clue as to what to tell a highly anxious nation, as Motlanthe acknowledged.
Now routine circulars will be issued on Nelson Mandela’s health and we, his people, will be kept in the loop.
And we too must accept with the greatest of graces that he has amazingly taught us to live without him.
We must remember that he has asked, through his Foundation and his family, that he would like to spend his last years in retirement.
In granting him that, the nation will be exhibiting his grace.
This is hard to do for, as the nascent nation that is South Africa, we have Madiba in our DNA.
To lose him, it feels, is to lose a part of ourselves.
And so we panic as we did this week, sending up a wail of anguish, even if prematurely.
But this leader among leaders has taught us different lessons and more than 11 years ago he signalled the instruction to independence of him when he stepped down from power after only a single term as president.
That salutary moment was not only because Madiba wanted a break, it was also a symbolic step.
Unlike other leaders, he did not need to hang onto power, neither did he view himself as irreplaceable.
Even during his presidency he was careful not to portray himself as synonymous with South African stability.
So, he handed foreign and economic policy authority to his then deputy, Thabo Mbeki.
By the time he stepped down the skies did not fall because he had acted with grace and wisdom.
And now it is our turn as a country to exhibit his eminent grace as we celebrate that he is still with us and that we know we’ll be OK even when he’s not.