December 14, 2013
December 6, 2013
Better you don’t know how much they’re manipulating you.
Wannabe statesmen want to retain you as their Madiba – ancestor of the nation, guardian of the world. Your closed casket is their open season; now they can arrange you any way they like.
Madiba, embodiment of elderly wisdom, also serves to outlaw the idea of Mandingo, i.e. ‘look at those huge fists, see the terrifying cock on that black bull’. The magic of Madiba dispels the fantastic dangers of the flesh (skin, boner and bare-knuckle fighter) conjured up in swart gevaar (Afrikaans for ‘black threat’) mentality.
Meanwhile Tutu does a twirl because your political party, the African National Congress, has wrapped you in its flag and drawn up the guest list for your funeral – minus a certain archbishop. He has a point: the sight of your grandson Mandla harvesting Madiba’s reputation – your most vital organ – is hard to watch.
But this is too one-sided. Any story which refers only to other people’s machinations, is bound to be simplistic. Postcards from your boxing days – bare-chested with stiletto-thin moustache – suggest that the idea of Mandingo was not entirely alien to you. Your ‘dignity’ was never docile nor disinterested; even in your prison cell, you always worked the room. Machiavelli might have written The Prince with you in mind; rather, he need not have done so, since you were already mindful of it.
Conversely, I bet the dodgy geezer currently trading on Tata’s persona, would still stake it all in order to play the grandson’s traditional role: having accompanied his grandfather during the days leading up to the funeral, speaking alone to the dear departing as he goes gently into the night.
Machiavelli, Mandingo, Madiba: Nelson Mandela has been something of each of these; he was only as complex as the rest of us.
For those disposed to go against the grain, he is easily identified as the Liberace of Liberation. With batik shirts instead of sequins (both equally eye-catching); the same unceasing grin; and the precious jewel of his dignity – like Liz Taylor’s largest diamond, so big and so precious it can only become cheesy.
Phoaaarhh! On the occasion of Mandela’s death, his life story is being milked so much it is curdling faster than his corpse.
Scepticism towards Saint Mandela is surely justified. He was patron of the post-apartheid society in which white households are now reckoned to be six times richer than the average black household. An editor at BBC World News opted for ‘irony’ as the one word which sums up the South African economy today.
But there is constantia as well as contradiction. The look of Mandela the boxer, entering into the battle for democratic rights; the expression in his voice after he was released from jail; his gaze as he looked back at his public life on the point of retirement – different moments in the Mandela myth are nonetheless unified in his manifest determination to serve the people.
Norman Tebbit, former Tory cabinet minister, praised Mandela for changing his mind, pointing out that until his mind was changed he had been leader of a political party resorting to ‘terrorism’. But change came not so much from inside Mandela himself; it was more to do with the circumstances surrounding him.
The fall of the Berlin Wall meant that post-apartheid democracy could now be conceptualised by all sides without reference to the fall of capitalism. From then on, while Mandela carried on dedicating himself to ‘the people’, the outcome of his dedication was irrevocably changed – even as he continued calling out the same ideals. From now on, from almost all points-of-view, there was little reason not to go ahead and dismantle apartheid (growth rates for South Africa’s capitalist economy are much improved as a result).