I definitely can’t muster the ability or wherewithal to write my own reflections on Madiba’s passing (except to say that I am relieved that he could finally pass after such a long time on the deathbed). But here’s some stuff I liked:
Khwezi Gule writes that “Mandela’s real essence is against performance,” and touches on many feelings I have had. We’ve prepared for this for years, so how can we know what we think, feel and do is authentic?
As I said I am not yet sure how I feel about Mandela’s death but already I feel the need to externalize feelings of mourning. Maybe this is the cause of my uneasiness. But even more deeply, it is the worry that I am not even “allowed” to process what I’m feeling in an authentic way. That already I feel pressured to perform to a script.
At the moment Mandela is furthest from my mind. And I dare say, may be even further from the minds of the many people who will be uttering his name in the coming weeks. Because if he was on our minds perhaps we would speak less, think more and we would listen more attentively to those voices within ourselves and those voices often ignored in public discourse.
It’s so important to remember the man he was, not the myth. Tony Karon highlights three such myths. Two of them I’ve already seen too much of. One is that without Mandela, whites will be engulfed by violence at the hands of black South Africans.
Another the idea that Mandela was a pacifist saint. This is a convenient story, and is very similar to the myth of a colourblind MLK in that it allows people to praise an Icon who fought against what they stood for. Thus we can have conservatives across the board in Europe and America, and whites in South Africa who are otherwise thoroughly racist claim Mandela for themselves.
We can’t let this narrative overshadow him, or else he’ll be claimed by people who would have opposed him. Perhaps the most powerful thing I’ve read:
Dear revisionists, Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel…
You will say that Mandela stood above all for forgiveness whilst scuttling swiftly over the details of the perversity that he had the grace to forgive.
…You will try to make out that apartheid was some horrid spontaneous historical aberration, and not the logical culmination of centuries of imperial arrogance.…Well, try hard as you like, and you’ll fail. Because Mandela was about politics and he was about race and he was about freedom and he was even about force, and he did what he felt he had to do.…Nelson Mandela was not a god, floating elegantly above us and saving us. He was utterly, thoroughly human, and he did all he did in spite of people like you.
There is one more thing that two authors have mentioned, and it bears noting. Teju Cole responds not directly, but in a story about the torturers and the prisoners on a certain island.
White supremacy has its uses. Because of its great care and its thoughtful strategy, because of the tireless way it hoards its hatred, it is good at making heroes. Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu: what would our lives have meant without theirs? No wheel moves without friction. Without the obscenity of white supremacy to resist, they might have been mere happy family men.
Dan Magaziner makes the same point, but says it more directly: it is tragic that people like Nelson Mandela have to exist.
I weep to think of a humanity that needed a Nelson Mandela to lay bare the reality of what we have done to each other
That’s true. And yet we are so fortunate to have had him.