It is well known that Nelson Mandela is perfect. While Madiba himself has always maintained that he is not some kind of immaculate icon, but rather a human being with flaws, that’s exactly the kind of thing someone perfect would say. You’d think he’d at least have the decency to be arrogant about his achievements, but no.
The man was (and remains) head boy material through and through. So I imagine that Zuma, and Mbeki before him, quickly grew sick and tired of everyone telling them to be more like Madiba every five minutes. How are you supposed to fill the shoes of someone that had such a long walk to freedom that he wrote the book?
White South Africans, for the most part, seem to live in a state of permanent disappointment over the fact that the vast majority of black people are not Nelson Mandela. Especially when black people dredge up Apartheid, which as we all know was ages ago, and we can’t just blame everything on it, like we do more recent events like the Anglo Boer War. It’s then that we like to say, in our roundabout way, “Nelson Mandela completely forgave us, why can’t you?”
It’s understandable that Madiba means so much to white people. It is a well-documented FACT (which is like a fact, only more factual) that he’s the only thing keeping black South Africa from rising up and murdering us all with pangas in our sleep. The second he passes away, South Africa will instantly become ‘the next Zimbabwe’, finally proving that some of South Africa’s brightest political commentators – the kind of people who leave comments on News24 – were right all along about what they have been predicting for years.
White people’s fervour when it comes to Tata Madiba is so extreme that we forget a lot of us were a bit like today’s Manchester City fans when it comes to Nelson Mandela. When he wasn’t doing so well (i.e. all locked up in jail and stuff) a lot of us barely cared about him at all, but in 1990 he shot to the top of the log and suddenly had millions of new white fans, all of whom swear they supported him all along.
Of course, unlike Manchester City, Nelson Mandela could not attribute his sudden success to the fact that he was purchased by a rich Arab sheik, but all metaphors fall apart when placed under that kind of scrutiny. Also, I’m told that Madiba supports Liverpool rather than Manchester City, which is perhaps the greatest proof we’ve been offered so far that he isn’t perfect after all.
It’s probably a reflection of my cynical nature that I can’t get completely swept up in all this extreme Madiba Day fervour. And I do appreciate the fact that writing about how Madiba Day isn’t my cup of tea is a bit like writing about how kittens should all be put to sleep. It’s not a popular sentiment.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate what Madiba has done, or his iconic status, but I guess it’s just the hipster in me. It’s no fun getting all excited about Nelson Mandela when everyone else is doing it. A tweet I sent earlier today kind of sums it up. “Madiba’s ok, but I prefer underground struggle icons like Dr James Moroka. You probably haven’t even heard of him”.
I suppose I should just get with the programme. Mandela’s birthday does give us all the perfect opportunity to walk around all pious-like, asking everyone around us, in an ever-so-slightly accusatory tone, “So what are you doing for Madiba day!?” If we take 67 minutes out of our day to help little old ladies across the street, then we can spend the other 22 hours and 53 minutes smoking tik and watching porn, safe in the knowledge that we are not one of those bad South Africans. It’s up there with Facebook Causes and online petitions as the perfect way to feel good about yourself without going to too much trouble.
Madiba Day has even been used as an excuse by certain companies for anything from 2-for-1 burger specials to free magazine subscriptions. It’s treated by some as a bit like Father’s Day, but for the father of our nation, which means it’s an opportunity to spend 67 minutes doing the charitable equivalent of buying greeting cards and making breakfast in bed.
My own father is very much against Father’s Day, and I’ve always appreciated this sentiment, not least because it allows me to avoid buying him aftershave. And what he always says is, “Rather be nice to me every day than once a year,” and I guess that’s how I feel about Madiba Day. Rather than 67 minutes, we should all spend 24 hours a day involved in intensely charitable acts.
Which I’m sure would be the case if it weren’t for the fact that we are not perfect, one of the many unfortunate side-effects of not being Madiba. DM