Sunday, March 1, 2009




Nelson Mandela is a darling and icon of the world, and news of his death would make more headlines than Barack Obama’s inauguration as America’s first black president.

Which explains why some of us were livid to learn last week that Mandela’s visit to the Eastern Cape to attend an ANC rally was (dis)organised in a manner that could have placed his life in danger.

But the report itself — and subsequent reaction to it — made me ponder some critical questions about the mind-set of our body politic in relation to our politics in general, and the meaning of Mandela in particular. Oh, and the role of the media, as well.

Let me explain. It is an open secret that many in the newsrooms here and abroad did not like the outcome of Polokwane, where Jacob Zuma emerged victorious in his campaign against Thabo Mbeki.

So what we’ve had since Polokwane has been the sort of reportage and analysis which political commentator Xolela Mangcu fears is a herd mentality when it comes to the ANC.

The media treatment of the ANC since Zuma became its president has been of such a nature that one could rightly ask, as I did this week when I saw that article : where is this coming from?

Is this news for the sake of informing and encouraging debate, or is there another agenda behind all of this?

Quite understandably, Mandela is held in high regard by many of us. The man has literally become a saint.

So when he is seen in public with someone who others see as tainted, corrupt, uneducated, a polygamist (a swear word in some quarters), a thug and a “racketeering personage”, according to COPE’s Terror Lekota, those in the media who are repulsed by Zuma instinctively smell a big and revolting rat.

Because of the way that story was handled, one would be forgiven for having the image of Zuma plotting — and eventually carrying out — the abduction of Mandela!

As if the old man himself is a helpless, non-compos mentis imbecile.

And why would the ANC deliberately put Mandela’s life at risk?

All of this raises the inevitable question: if what happened two weeks ago — the travel arrangements that, reportedly and allegedly, were made posthaste and in a manner potentially carrying fatal consequences — could raise such a huge political storm, what would happen if the man were to die?

Put differently, who is Mandela, to which part of history does he belong and who has the rights to his legacy?

Imagine if the man were to suddenly die and, instead of us giving him a remarkable send-off for a man of his stature, we see squabbling among those who would all claim him and his legacy, and end up giving our towering hero a disgraceful bye-bye to the hereafter!

Perhaps, to belabour the point, we all need to remember what a colossus Mandela is.

He may not agree, but he has, by and large, outgrown the political, narrow confines of the ANC.

Yes, everybody can claim him, but that does not give any person — or formation, for that matter — the automatic claim to him, what he represents and his legacy.

It is, in fact, an insult to all of us when some publicly claim to represent what he stands for when they even trample upon one of his stated principles, which is respect for democratic practice.

Lest it be lost upon us, Zuma is here with us precisely because of a democratic process that saw him emerge as leader of the ANC in Polokwane.

And we will, in all likelihood, see him become president of this country.

We voted for this kind of democratic reality. Let us not change the rules because they favour those against whom we hold a serpent-like dislike.

Tiisetso Makube, Johannesburg