James Evans asks South Africa and the world to move on from Nelson Mandela.
Reputation is a priceless currency amongst politicians. Few are immune to its influence. History suggests that Boris Johnson may have the rare ability to make up his own rules, but past leaders like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have conspicuously struggled to remain whiter than white in the eyes of the public! It should come as no surprise that, when a great man like Nelson Mandela dies, the leaders of the free world attempt to protect their reputations by flocking like migrant geese to the place of eulogy. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the farcical fare feasted upon by the global media did our leaders more harm than good: Barack Obama’s ‘selfie’ and the ‘fake sign language interpreter’ captured public indignation to the point of overshadowing the event itself!
In the midst of this superficial side-show, I have two pleas. Firstly, remember Nelson Mandela the human: not just his reputation. Like Winston Churchill or Mahatma Ghandi, Madiba will doubtless be credited with superhuman qualities. He was also a man. Not everything in Mandela’s life was perfect: he suffered two broken marriages and spent well over twenty years in prison for acts of terrorism, albeit against the unjust and morally bankrupt apartheid regime. But Mandela’s great qualities were also human. Politicians might do well to emulate rather than idolise Madiba’s faith in God, his unshakeable belief in the future of a united South Africa, his resilience and determination under extraordinary pressure, his capacity for forgiveness, and his tireless work-ethic. His achievements should not be overstated in flights of fantasy: South Africa is still a troubled nation with high crime rates, serious health issues, haves and have-nots. But it is instructive to compare the post-apartheid history of South Africa with that of Zimbabwe to realise how remarkable Nelson Mandela was.
His achievements should not be overstated in flights of fantasy: South Africa is still a troubled nation with high crime rates, serious health issues, haves and have-nots.
My second plea is a simple one: free Nelson Mandela. Let him go. South Africa and the world have lost a great leader. Now we have to move on. Jacob Zuma, his advisors and successors must find a way to build on Madiba’s successes without hiding behind his effigy. As Nick said to Gatsby: ‘you can’t repeat the past’. Next year, South Africa will hold its general elections; Mandela’s former party (the ANC) may well lose. It is time for the Rainbow Nation’s new generation of leaders, inspired by Mandela’s human qualities, to show their true colours…
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