A friend of our Editor was at a beauty salon recently when she saw a woman crying. Asked what was wrong, the woman said something to the effect that now that Mandela’s dead, ‘the blacks’ are going to attack. I presume she feared for her life, and in addition to the passing of an icon, she was doubly sad that Mandela, who had apparently been holding back the flood of ‘angry blacks’, was gone for good.
Will South Africa lose the plot now that Madiba’s has passed on? I heard this asked in Europe and suspect that the question did the rounds on a global scale. The answer is simple: if South Africa descends into chaos, it won’t be because Mandela has left us.
The former state president left his offices in Luthuli House – his political party’s headquarters – and those in the government buildings, for retirement in 1999… 14 years ago. Yes, we heard him admonish George W. Bush for striking Iraq. He hinted that Mugabe to retire. However, he made these remarks in his personal capacity, as a retired elder statesman. The new South Africa, the country of which he is the founding father, continued to thrive.
The more relevant question is this: why didn’t South Africa fall apart when Mandela retired? This he did after only one term as the country’s first black president, on a continent riddled with presidents who refuse to step down, like Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Uganda’s Museveni and Rwanda’s Kagame? The answer to this question showcases Mandela’s true power.
South Africa stayed on course, got stronger as a democracy, complete with one of the freest media in the modern world, because Madiba taught us the importance of institutions. Our elections are monitored by an Independent Electoral Commission. We have a Public Protector with an office that shields us from our politicians’ shenanigans.
Mandela went even further. Not only did he appear in court for his divorce proceedings, he also did so for an internationally unprecedented order to appear again. (President Mandela had sent an affidavit, which was questioned as untruthful – thus the order for him to appear in court in person.) He did this so that he could defend a presidential decision to set up a commission to investigate South African rugby for racism, graft and nepotism because a certain Louis Luyt saw this commission as a personal vendetta.
Madiba took what was designed to humiliate him, and used it to cement the doctrine that, in a properly functioning democracy, no man is above the law. This remains a defining moment in Mandela’s life. Even as men tried to spit in his face, he created a wind of change that blew that spittle back into their own faces, and in the process, made the world a better place.
In his speech at the launch of the ANC’s 2014 election manifesto, President Zuma insisted that members of the ruling party who are found guilty of wrongdoing by a South African court of law will be removed from political office. This is a man who sat through his own rape trial, which he eventually won – a bittersweet ending.
Citizens have gone as far as to depict this president’s penis as part of an artwork. This happens on a continent where it is rumoured that some African presidents send assassins to murder their opponents in foreign hotel rooms. I am confident that if South African courts found President Zuma culpable of any wrongdoing, he would step down.
South Africa does not have to worry about Mandela’s passing. We have every reason to be thankful for his exemplary life. Given the foundation Madiba laid, President Zuma boasts an administration that has increased the average South African’s lifespan from 54 to 60 years of age. That’s a six-year improvement in five years.
Today, President Zuma can look to the vast improvements his administration has made in health, job creation, infrastructure development and, most importantly, in education, and say that he is inspired by the legacy of those who came before him: who include the giant that is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
That legacy does not include attacking and murdering whites. So, weep not, oh ye fair one, thou art just fine.