Sunday, February 22, 2009



Sunday Times Editorial
Feb 22, 2009

There was something eerie about the unexpected appearance of former president Nelson Mandela at the ANC election rally in the Eastern Cape last weekend.

Many people were caught by surprise. Even some senior ANC leaders were, according to reports, not aware of his pending arrival until a few hours before the rally — when party president Jacob Zuma revealed to them that he’d be accompanied by none other than Madiba himself.

This, after the elderly statesman had publicly announced his retirement from active politics.

Mandela’s appearance alongside Zuma was nevertheless widely hailed as a major election coup for Zuma whose moral standing as a presidential candidate is still the subject of heated debate among South Africans.

Many analysts have interpreted it as a masterstroke for a man whose ambition to become the country’s next president is almost uncontrollable. There is no doubt Zuma needed this kind of a boost.

We do not doubt Mandela’s political loyalty to the ANC. He has long made it known that he remains a loyal member of the ANC and that he’ll die still being a member of the ruling party.

Equally so, the ANC’s ownership of Mandela has never been in question. Mandela has himself proclaimed — through his daughter Zindzi — that he’ll be buried by none but the ANC when he dies.

But he has, on several occasions — through the Nelson Mandela Foundation — expressed his wish to be allowed to retire “fully” from public life and “not to be drawn into politics”.

He has made it clear that he has every reason to believe the ANC leadership will respect his wishes.

It is against this background that his appearance alongside Zuma raises more questions than answers.

Many people are asking what could have suddenly changed Mandela’s mind when he had clearly and unequivocally stated that he did not wish to be involved in politics any more.

When the Mandela Foundation issued a statement on Friday distancing itself from the event, there were already rumblings within the family, the foundation itself and some in the ANC to the effect that Mandela could have been taken for a political ride.

Those who organised to take him to the rally appear to have shown little care about his wishes and, more importantly, his state of health. Political expediency seems to have overtaken compassion and respect for Mandela’s wishes in this case.

The sight of the old man being carried onto the stage amid chilly Eastern Cape rains was disturbing, to say the least.

Mandela is a national asset who has to be protected from those who want to advance their own selfish interest. His family must also realise that it is carrying on its shoulders a name that transcends the mere Mandela family. He is a symbol of international hope and a mirror of what good stands for.

Mandela’s legacy must be protected at all costs.