Standing in the crowds waiting to enter Wanderers Stadium yesterday to hear former US president Barack Obama deliver the 16thAnnual Mandela Lecture, I felt the Spirit of Mandela hovering over us. All colours, costumes, cultures, ages, gathered together in earnest conversation brought glimmers of joy and optimism to my heart. This was the character of Mandela – greeting people, listening to their stories. Making ordinary people feel that they are the centre of his world. It was not the Mandela who jumped queues to go to the front. Now is the time to retrace our steps back to 1994. Where did we go wrong?
Today as I listen to the endless tributes – the new statue; the new street name; the new book – I feel a weariness, an emptiness. We are placing the founding father of our democracy on a pedestal cast in bronze. Like a beautiful painting of Mona Lisa smiling down from the walls of the Louvre and his smiling portrait in corporate boardrooms. We beatify him.
Our consecration of Mandela helps us sleep better at night. It helps us steer away from the horror of a country where millions go to bed hungry, millions are jobless and where inequality has grown since democracy was inaugurated. Where mothers have to make choices many times in backyards of shanty towns, slums and impoverished villages of which child to feed and which child will not eat; not because there is not enough food in our country but because millions have no income. Living in a world that has been commodified and financialised our most basic needs, assaulted our environment, committing ecocide all in the pursuit of the new gods of profit and greed.
What Mandela represents still today in the face of growing racism, big power, obscene consumption, an unrelenting sacrifice across his lifetime – 67 years in service of his country and his people. And we want to reduce that to 67 minutes in which celebrities and high-ranking officials don new overalls and pose for media pictures. That cannot be understanding the Mandela Legacy. His battle was against the demons of oppression and exploitation with single-minded focus pulsing out from his jugular.
I remember that fateful morning of 11 February 1990, when Mandela, the Father of our Nation was released. I did not realise how tortured, heartbroken, he was not to be the father present for his children, for Winnie Mandela and his family. He was a prisoner of an illegitimate regime. But he was also a prisoner of our struggle, our peoples’ love and hopes and the organisation he led, the ANC.
Twenty-seven long years in jail during which he did not lower his head or arms. Mandela’s prison letters ( all 57 boxes) show an obstinate resistance, stubborn, always dignified and respectful. A resistance that is palpable at each line that Mandela addresses to his jailers. Through his prison letters, we discover his soul. We discover that it was pure goodness. It was not a mask, a masquerade. It was Mandela, pure, vulnerable and conflicted. I understood so much by reading these letters. It was a code that he has left us to understand our lives.
In prison, he found sanity in exploring the depths of his consciousness. He understood his Purpose. He unravelled the Great Mystery. He remembered. He drank from the well of ancient knowledge and wisdom.
Mandela understood that our most difficult journey in life was from the head to the heart. Because what comes from the heart goes to the heart of others. It gives us strength, protection, joy and energy for the path ahead. His compassion, love and generosity filled our cup with the triumph of Hope.
Today we are going through a world where our actions will decide the future of us as a human species. Mother Earth has been here for billions of years. It may take her millions of years to recover from our greed and stupidity but she is going nowhere. We face the stark choice of a future where we can fulfil our role as midwives to dream in our Highest Being or descend into a world of chaos, conflict, the rule of “God Presidents” and failed states.
Mandela understood that the leaders we create, the leaders we become are a reflection of our societal consciousness. As we weave together the sacred fabric of our knowing, remembering, effort and intention, so the warp and weft of connectedness hold us well.
We did achieve a political miracle in 1994 to step back from the precipice of a racial civil war that destroyed much of our social and physical fabric. The Mandela generation embraced a mission that aimed at achieving political freedom. That’s what that generation delivered – a constitutional democracy based on one person, one vote in a united, non-racial, non-sexist democracy.
We had to do the work to achieve the goal of addressing the past injustices and healing our country. It was the failure of political leadership that came after Mandela that left an angry generation feeling betrayed and without Hope. He would not be angry with young people accusing him of that betrayal. He is deeply disappointed with those in power who never understood that access to the highest offices in the land was in service of the people, not the enrichment of themselves.
Mandela’s life is, therefore, a reflection of the question we should all be asking – What does it mean to be human? He constantly worked towards oneness and an understanding that we are from one source. Beneath it all – race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion – we are all human. To find that thread of humanity that connects all living things. Mandela understood the power of Mother Earth. Growing up as a herd boy in the rolling hills of deep rural Transkei he understood that Mother Nature was our greatest teacher. That our very life was a connection to the Earth that nourishes us. He understood the need for us to respect the sacred feminine. In all his interactions that respect for women and children permeated with his experience of a harsh world where hierarchy, patriarchy and brute power had crushed the role of women, weakening our social and family fabric.
His life and wisdom asked us to stop talking about him. But to find the Mandela within you. How do we live and act the Madiba Magic? If you ask me do I live his legacy, I can say yes. I wake up with Mandela in my heart and I go to bed with him in my heart, and it is the same for all of the world. I don’t feel disappointed, I can see the bright future for humanity as a whole. I will plant his humility, his servant leadership like seeds in a fertile soil of intention.
I will pray and water this seed till it germinates, grows into a sapling and then a strong Baobab that provides the shade for the weary traveller. A home for the birds. A library of past indigenous knowledge and our history. It would bring peace to our land and a greater understanding of each other’s stories, histories and help us weave an identity that is shared and a nation that is united.
It will heal the festering wound of our past, allow us to forge a genuine identity on which we can build a nation where our children, black and white, can learn to live, work and play together in peace and with the values our founding father left us with.
That for me is what Mandela’s legacy is. DM