Columns

Message from Mandela

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, December 13, 2013    

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AS I got to the TV last evening the words, "Amandla awethu! Long live" greeted my ears from the Nasrec Stadium. Soccer City seats about 100,000 and has seen victories for the Kaiser Chiefs soccer club, so why "Power to the people" on Mandela's day?

They masses are hurt and are sending a message to President Zuma before the elections. I am not here to praise Mandela or to bury him, but to learn. We are busy speaking of Madiba, lauding him, but did we really listen to him? We outdo each other in praise, so why not embrace his values?

South Africa's emancipation was based on hearts, minds and bloody hell in the trenches. It was not like ours. Later, Mandela's world came full circle and non-violence crowned him with peace and reconciliation. The RSA was at war; the white Apartheid state had nuclear and chemical weapons but did not use them. Why? Man to man the combat evolved and eventually Mandela and the ANC won emancipation.

Mandela caught the world's imagination and so the memorial service was a must-do. The formality was a drag, but the excitement in the bleachers was high-singing, dancing and joshing. The ceremony described an arc and declined to near farce after Obama spoke. His meter, lilt, filtered through a biblical prism, were well suited to extreme registers of joy or grief. Obama is the quintessential wordsmith. He made the sun shine on the tribes in the First National Bank Stadium. Many questions popped up as boredom took hold -- my brain was mischievous. Was this the best of Africa we were seeing? Why a Christian ceremony? Does Africa have an indigenous faith of global reach and multi-culture? A global showcase for Africa and it resorts to Western motley? In a nation with major foreign faiths -- Judaism, Hindu, Islam and Christianity -- where do African gods stand? In a nation that has 11 official languages, including two European ones -- English and Afrikaans -- do leaders expect to calm a shivering, dispirited stadium crowd in English? We also learned that Africans will boo their president whether the world is there or not. The truth in the crowd: Zuma is not Mandela's heir.

On my TV trawl -- British, American and Canadian feeds -- I saw our PM in beatific black, every follicle in place, smiling in pelting rain -- a worthy emissary. On radio she was convincing. Netanyahu did not come as the US$1.9 m for his trip was unaffordable. What's the scuttlebutt? A rain-soaked African crowd is wiser than event planners and prefer to dance and keep warm than shiver and get pneumonia. Andrew Holness's comments on radio were not memorable. I expected better. For months Mr Mandela was in the departure lounge, yet hOLNESS did not emit a fluent statement and his pubertal voice almost cracked.

Madiba was the emancipator. Just two decades ago South Africa was in thrall, black people were enslaved, their leaders jailed and exiled. Mandela moved on a trajectory to freedom and, by his sustained global appeal, won the argument and the battle. Their fight for freedom was similar to ours, in that a major theatre was abroad. Jamaica was a fierce advocate for Mandela and white nations ramped-up sanctions and pressure on the slave masters. Our emancipation had no organised resistance, while the ANC's recruited across decades, boundaries, race, and progressed through protest, legal battles to most brutal violence. Mandela embraced armed struggle against the State, not its people; and only prison isolated him.

Message from Mandela: We have the means to free ourselves from inept politicians. He was a cerebral man, framed a revolutionary mantra, lived it in the evil empire; did not imbibe vengeance or negativity. We can mobilise ethically against corrupt structures and those who keep them in place.

Message for Jamaica: Mandela's life is a reproach to us with some two centuries of freedom to our credit and nothing to show. His was a long walk to freedom; ours a protracted saunter to poverty. They got freedom in our lifetime, embraced the former oppressor and the State empowered those former oppressed.

The number of millionaires in Zuma's Government and ANC is an embarrassment. Yet, South Africa is not like Jamaica. It is a massive country with many natural resources. We cannot properly school our 700,000 students; they have some 12 million. Their separation of powers is a treat -- Parliament in one city, the executive another hundreds of miles away and the judiciary in Bloemfontein. When in Pretoria dealing with a contract politicians are far away in Cape Town. The lifestyle is more exalted than the tribal one. We embraced the master's lifestyle but have never worked to pay for it. In the RSA poor people are multiples of the middle class -- heavy lifting to elevate them. We have half-a-million disadvantaged in 2.8 million people, so with leadership we can prosper in a decade. The 400,000 young people "not working" and "not seeking work" is ominous. What do they seek? Who checks?

Can we draw on Mandela mantras to free our minds? "I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." Can this fuel our quest for prosperity? We extol Mandela's virtues; live them! Mandela had no slave mentality; no regret and recriminations. From jail he planned the future, dreamt of democratic elections; was magnanimous to the former enemy, welcomed them to a rainbow nation, and initiated affirmative action never before seen.

In 50 + 1 years we bred entitled leaders and a culture of freeness. We need a truth and reconciliation process for past and present leaders to get facts. These men justify our current malaise in terms which hold them blameless: "It wasn't me, it was them!" Our trained, erudite black leaders took over from the British with joy and failed. What was missing? What went wrong? We need to know to avoid those shoals. They wasted billions in FDI, foreign aid, credit; built up massive debt with no commensurate asset base. The money was spent, private fortunes made, and we have the debt. The sustained spend on schools lifted less than 30 per cent of the nation's children to proficiency. Today, many degreed persons have not mastered English; every vital national service is ailing; we are satraps of the USA; and crime shakes our foundations.

Can we move forward if we don't know what went wrong? Can we use Mandela's mantras? I was once in a house of a M'beki muse Lady Nomazizi in Jo'Burg, with a wall between us, but I never met him. I demonstrated for his freedom, wore out shoes plastering posters and handing out leaflets, lost my voice on a megaphone -- no regrets! Let us model his work, wisdom and compassion. Stay conscious, my friend.

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.

franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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