Sunday, August 2, 2009



Mondli Makhanya
Aug 02, 2009

He has been a father figure to each and every one of the six billion people who inhabit our planet
There was a fascinating discussion in the Sunday Times editorial conference this week as we debated the story about preparations for the funeral of the great Nelson Mandela.

The story, which appears elsewhere in this edition, tells of how local and foreign media networks are enticing residents of Mandela’s home village in the Eastern Cape with handsome sums of money for permission to use their homes as bases when the funeral is held there — hopefully on a very, very distant day in the future.

Some residents are even extending and sprucing up their homesteads in anticipation of cashing in on what will be a global event.

When the story was presented to the gathering of this paper’s senior editors, there were some strong feelings about its macabre nature.

“It reads like the funeral is this coming week,” one editor said.

Another described it as “ghoulish” and a third as “distasteful”.

There was a lengthy discussion about whether we should carry the story at all, with the majority arguing that the reality was that it was happening and we could not ignore it.

There may be a perception that journalists are cold machines chasing the next headline, but I can assure you that a sombre mood prevailed at our meeting.

In the end, we decided to go with the story but to watch its tone so that there would not be a “ghoulish” feel to it.

And I know for a fact that we are not the only people in the world who are grappling with this sombre and difficult subject.

Newsrooms everywhere are making plans for an event that may still be a decade or more away — or so I would like to believe.

Our government and other institutions are feverishly but quietly working at ensuring that the great man makes a dignified journey to his final resting place. It’s a discussion that is also happening among the Mandela family and those close to him.

I am reflecting on our conference discussion and this matter because media institutions will be compelled to carry such stories in coming months and years. This might cause discomfort to readers, listeners and viewers.

There will be stories like this one in the paper about the preparations.

But there will also be stories about unscrupulous individuals — some of them within the Mandela family — for whom the old man’s final years present an opportunity to appease their greedy financial palates.

We will understand the reasons for readers’ discomfort because it is a discomfort that we also feel.

None of us wants to ever see that day come to pass.

Mandela has been a father figure to each and every one of the six billion people who inhabit our planet. Everyone feels that somehow they have a personal relationship with him.

In reporting these stories, we will at all times be ultra-careful not to be like vultures waiting for the inevitable. In this respect we would like to be guided by you, our readers. Do talk to us.

We want Mandela’s final years on the planet to be lived in dignity and will do our bit to ensure that this happens.

All South Africans should also endeavour to ensure that these years are lived in dignity, by embracing the values that he embraced and living like the citizens he liberated.

We have to revisit the “RDP (reconstruction and development) of the soul” — a phrase he loves to use.

It would be useful to go back to the speech he gave at the opening of parliament in 1999, where he described some elements of this RDP of the soul.

He spoke of striking a “balance between freedom and responsibility”.

“Quite clearly, there is something wrong with a society where freedom is interpreted to mean that teachers or students get to school drunk; warders chase away management and appoint their own friends to lead institutions; striking workers resort to violence and destruction of property; business people lavish money on court cases simply to delay implementation of legislation they do not like; and tax evasion turns individuals into heroes of dinner-table talk.

“Something drastic needs to be done about this. South African society — in its schools and universities, in the workplace, in sports, in professional work and in all areas of social interaction — needs to infuse itself with a measure of discipline, a work ethic and responsibility for the actions we undertake.”

The leaders of the trade union movement should be reminded of this plea when they allow their members to trash the streets of our cities, to kill colleagues who do not join them in strike action and to generally behave like demented Huns.

The same reminder should also go out to employers who continue to treat their workers like serfs — and to government departments and individual officials who ferret away money while failing to deliver services that are essential to the dignity of citizens.

It should be noted by a government that does not seem to care about the annual ritual murder of dozens of young men in provinces like the Eastern Cape, all in the name of culture and tradition.

Were we to address some of these issues, we would surely put a smile on Mandela’s face and probably have him around for much longer.