Sad but True: Nelson Mandela’s Sell-by Date: 18 July 2008
The saddest part of the election campaign during the last half year has been the way the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, has been drawn into it.
The culmination came last Sunday. Then you could see Nelson Mandela on stage at the Coca Cola Park Stadium in Johannesburg facing at least 50 000 ANC supporters. It was Jacob Zuma’s grand finale before the elections. He made it clear to the audience that Mr Mandela had asked himself to be part of the meeting, and that may be true; and still this was the saddest of moments in this election campaign.
Mandela was seated at the back of the stage, attended to by a grandson. A few metres away his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was standing waving to the crowds, while Mandela did not move his face, did not show any emotions, not even when he was presented to the roaring crowds. While Winnie Mandela was present in her own right, not only as an ANC leader but also as someone who early on showed her allegiance with Zuma rather than Mbeki, Mandela’s wife Graca Marcel was conspicuous by her absence.
The first Mandela appearance in this election campaign took place a couple of months ago in the Eastern Cape. His presence then was hotly debated afterwards. Apparently the ANC leadership had brought him there in a private aircraft from Johannesburg (more than 800 km away) with very short notice. None of the usual security measures had been taken and the Mandela’s own office, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which up to that moment had closely monitored his every move, was not even consulted.
There are two aspects to this development that I want to highlight. First of all it is obvious that Nelson Mandela has been taken hostage by the present ANC leadership. In a desperate move to give the impression that the party is the only rightful inheritor of power in the new South Africa, it was simply too tempting to make use of iconic Mandela. This should however also be seen in conjunction with a very unpleasant undertone in the rhetoric from the new leadership click (but in fact not from Zuma himself so far): “if you don’t tow the line, too bad, because we are the rightful leaders, whatever happens, and we are going to see to it, with whatever means that we stay as leaders”.
This very unpleasant undertone feels like a threat to democracy. Only when the new government is sworn in and have ruled its first hundred days will we know more precisely if this writing on the wall is a reality.
Secondly, it is almost inconceivable that Nelson Mandela would be able to endorse the Zuma campaign and leadership, just like that. No, we know better than that. The Mandela that we know, or came to know, as late as earlier last year, was a very independent man. He could not possibly endorse a presidential candidate who directly or indirectly has been involved in corruption relating to the arms deal (South Africa’s gigantic, still ongoing purchase of arms from British, German and Swedish dealers); he could not possibly endorse a presidential candidate who, just a couple of weeks ago, partly through illegal or questionable means, managed to avoid a pending court case against him. We all know that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but for a presidential candidate this is not good enough. If there is any doubt what so ever as to the candidate’s record, you must leave no stone unturned. There are apparently many unturned stones in the career of Jacob Zuma and that worries many of us, but we will see.
As for Mandela, his being taken hostage by the present leadership of the ANC is just too sad a story. He is a man in his own right. His own great leadership record makes him simply too big for any party or movement. In his retirement he should have been able to enjoy that freedom, which he has fought for so fervently. We don’t know why he doesn’t speak out; is it because he has decided to tow the line in some kind of resignation? Is it because of old age that he simply can’t? We are all going that way aren’t we?
It is too sad to be forced to say that Nelson Mandela’s sell-by date is long overdue; that date was the 18th of July last year, his 90th birthday.