Is Mandela’s legacy bastardized by those who claim to know?

Nelson Mandela

Five years after the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, many are trying to advocate we must all emulate him in legacy pursuit. We all for obvious reasons agree with any noble intent of emulating that which stands for what is good. However, this emulation is often less understood and adopts interesting manifestations.  The legacy of Mandela simply does not define a straight line. The tension between the iconic saint and the fallible human, often not trusted even by his own, is very tangible.  In the year that he would have turned a full century had he lived we are compelled to look at how his legacy is talked about and used.  If we are going to emulate Mandela, we will need to engage the fullness of his legacy as a full human.

This past weekend talk-show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey visiting SA on a serious of events in celebration of Mandela’s centenary also shared her views of this legacy. I retorted, perhaps Winfrey’s prism on a Mandela legacy is intrinsically linked to the iconic symbolism of a Nelson an airbrushed version and often at the expense of the Rolihlahla we knew.  Given the fact that legacies never assume a straight line, we are confronted with a form of bastardisation of his legacy led by groups of people with diverse personal and economic interests in the name Mandela.   I wish to postulate there are at least four distinct groups whom I hold in this season as leading attempts at a bastardization of this legacy to various degrees.

The first group choose to point fingers at others, in self-righteousness.  They uniquely believe that they have earned the right to speak on behalf of a Madiba in the interest of what he stood for. The biggest contribution this group makes is to tell others “leaders are fooling themselves in thinking them fooling the masses if they claim they emulate the espoused values of Nelson Mandela”. It is to them that the young Nandi Mandela not so long ago rang a warning, “stop pointing fingers”. Pointing out the wrongs through innuendos and veiled accusations helps no one.

These must know that they have violated a fundamental principle that governed Mandela’s political life, that being he confronted his compatriots, he did not use a media to speak what was meant to be handled internally. Mandela was fearlessly loyal to the movement and respected its leaders as democratically elected.

The second group include those who misinterpret Mandela as the hero of particularly of whites to denounce a history of apartheid sin and benefit. These assume you only practice reconciliation if your efforts benefit “whites”. This group has found spokespersons in the likes Archbishop Tutu and former caretaker- president, Kgalema Motlanthe. In the case of Tutu, we know a few years ago decided to append his signature and joining the voices against a march of the poor people of the Western Cape, citing this action as a threat to democracy.

Let us also not forget it was the Archbishop Tutu who pleaded that we desist referring to convicted criminal Johan Kotze as the Modimolle monster because God loves him and there is something good in him. Kotze a man who consciously in cold blood killed his stepson amidst the teenager’s pleas. I asked then and I ask now, when did the Archbishop Tutu speak up for any “black” rapist or monster like that?

Tutu, went on to castigate the organisers for not including what he terms ‘Afrikaner Religious Leaders’ in the programme. It would appear for the retired Tutu, this is the highest form of reconciliation and something Mandela would have worked for. That same group at the time received another voice of support from, Motlanthe who told us the continuous incarceration of Clive Derby-Lewis co-conspirator with Janus Walus who pulled the trigger on Chris Hani on April 10, 1993, torments him.

The premise for this stance on the part of Motlanthe is to argue if we have moved on, we are supposed to make it count in considering his release.  The challenge I had and still have with the second group is their perpetual misinterpretation of what reconciliation means for them it resonates singularly in the domain of one race group, as a benefactor of reconciliation.

These abdicate and pass over the challenges of reconciliation in African people and consider them not important if not less worthy for such reconciliation. I thought Tutu should have asked why Qunu’s people did not see their hero at the time of his demise and funeral, would Mandela not have wanted that? Perhaps the more appropriate matter that should give Motlanthe torment must be the continuous imprisonment of AZAPO combatants.  Why does this not leave Motlanthe with sleepless nights of unease? If we talk of reconciliation after 24 years why are these former freedom fighters still incarcerated

The third group active in the legacy bastardization of Mandela legacy, constitute those who understand Mandela legacy only immanent in rebuking others as hypocrites when they blurt ‘don’t talk about what Mandela stood for, live it in praxis.’ They progress slightly further than pointing fingers because they want to see the values realised. The only problem is they again accuse others and measure them against the   44th USA President Barack H. Obama. For them, Obama apparently epitomizes in his public addresses what Mandela stood for. They hang on his lips be it at the FNB Stadium or the more recent Wanderers Cricket stadium. They quote Obama, yet they do not engage the flaws if not hypocrisy in an Obama who became the war president of the 21st century.

However, there is an also a fourth group, these make up those who assert the deal Mandela’s ANC negotiated was a bad deal, bad because it left the masses economically dispossessed while a few black elites became the signpost of economic freedom.  These bluntly accuse Mandela as having sold out and must not be revered as so often is the case. Yet they are also reprimanded by those who claim they were part of the negotiations, we have heard former presidents Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and now caretaker president Ramaphosa condemning those who claim Mandela sold out. Yet we have remonstrated if Mandela did not sell out can we accept the ANC sold out because the deal was bad.

Mandela is a man of many shades regardless of how you look at it, his legacy will continue to exist and it will equally never be free from bastardization. This legacy is used today to lash the ANC as a naked, useless, dishevelled mess that brought South Africa only turmoil, insults and a sense of indignity as it dismally failed in every sphere. All this occurred while Mandela was a collective hero adored miles apart from this collective responsibility of claimed failed delivery.

Clyde Ramalaine is a Political Commentator and Writer.