Dear Nelson Mandela

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IT was a beautiful ceremony, Madiba. One that will forever be etched on our minds.
The whole world bade farewell to Africa’s most illustrious son. Thousands of people braved the pouring rains to gather at the FNB stadium where your memorial service was held. But millions more followed the proceedings as they were beamed live on television the world over.
Your memorial service, Madiba, was easily one of the largest gatherings of global leaders in recent history, perhaps since the funeral of Pope John Paul 11. Presidents, former and current, statesmen and celebrities thronged the massive event.
President Barack Obama was accompanied by former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Prince of Wales, French President Francois Hollande and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also attended. Even Tony Blair and John Major were there. Africa was also very well represented. The list is long Madiba.
It was quite a grand occasion, wasn’t it? For someone who was once referred to as a terrorist when you were a freedom fighter, fighting against the unspeakable injustices perpetrated against your people. The former prisoner 46664 had a send-off fit for a king. Talk about irony.
But that is all water under the bridge now. You are being hailed as a global icon, a moral and spiritual leader up there with the likes of Martin Luther King; a nationalist in the mould of Mahatma Ghandi. Your hero status lies in your emergence as the embodiment of forgiveness. Rather than retribution, you chose reconciliation. You became the midwife to a transition from evil to hope, from a racist state to rainbow democracy. Not many would have managed to achieve what you did. Indeed, the world is a poorer place without you.
This revolution had many heroes, Madiba. One of your less salutary legacies is that your greatness obscured the role that hundreds and thousands of South Africans played in the fight against apartheid. You never stopped reminding those who lionized you for your courageous and principled stance against apartheid that there are thousands of unsung individuals who also contributed to the fight against that moral abomination. You, Nelson Mandela, were the face of that revolution. It was not a one man project. But l digress …Advertisement

There was thunderous applause for Barack Obama, the American president, Thabo Mbeki, your former wife Winnie and yes, Robert Mugabe. Even FW was politely cheered. Jacob Zuma was not so lucky. A section of the crowd booed and made the soccer substitution signal when he arrived, showing the level of discontent among South Africans with domestic politics. You know of course of his numerous scandals.
The more cynical among us mused that your demise was great timing for the ruling ANC, effectively burying negative coverage of Zuma’s messy govenance. Rumours of your death had been doing the rounds since July when your family announced you had been put on life support and were in a permanent persistent vegetative state. The government denied it but still, we wondered. Did you know that news of your death also uncannily coincided with the world premiere of the film on your life? Amazing.
Well, after that Zuma moment, the master of ceremony Cyril Ramaphosa battled to control the vociferous crowds using his experience as an activist and mineworkers’ leader of the 80s. He was forced to switch to Zulu and told the crowds not to ’embarrass us’. Desmond Tutu the archbishop was quickly dispatched to do more damage control. Poor Zuma. It has been said that no one has been able to fill the Madiba shoes, least of all Gedleyihlekisa. .
Obama delivered a fitting eulogy, dominating the proceedings with an eloquent delivery. “It is hard to eulogise any man … how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice,” he said. “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,. But let me say to the people of Africa, and young people around the world: You can make his life’s work your own.” Wise words from the American leader.
There was a ‘wow!’ moment when Winnie hugged and kissed Graca Machel, your widow. You know Nelson, people never really understood your divorce. Winnie took up the struggle, brought international interest more than ever before to the struggle and kept the flames of opposition alive. You came from jail preaching reconciliation, and yet it did not extend to her. You were gone for a good 27 years Nelson! The way you discarded her was rather callous.
That is of course not to say Graca was not a good wife for you. One wonders what would have happened had you lived in the days of the internet. Although you spent 27 years in jail, you still managed three wives. Even your personal life, outside politics was colourful.
Another extraordinary moment was when Obama shook hands with Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader. These two nations have been at loggerheads for more than half a century. It was the Madiba magic in the air, bringing old foes together. Even in death, Madiba, your unifying force is astounding.
Madiba, you have been said to be the glue that binds South Africa together. Now that you are gone, can the rainbow nation continue to live together in peace and harmony with the precious gift of your moral and political legacy as guidance? Wealth has remained firmly in the hands of the minority. The gap between the rich and the poor has continued to widen. If inequalities in the country become more unconscionable, a very different revolution from the one you preached Madiba, could soon be on the cards.
“Does it spell doomsday and disaster for us?” retired archbishop Desmond Tutu asked rhetorically when news of your death broke. “No, the country will not disintegrate.”
“The sun will rise tomorrow and the next day and the next,” said Tutu. “It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on.”
When a man has done what he considers to be the best for his country, he can rest in peace. Rest in peace, Nelson Rolihlala Mandela.