With Madiba gone, who do we become?

via With Madiba gone, who do we become? | Daily Maverick by Richard Poplak

Is this, wonders RICHARD POPLAK, the moment the South African story properly begins?

So, after all these years, we finally get to ask ourselves the question.

Who are we?

They say that one truly becomes an adult when one’s father dies. For some of us this moment comes early, too early, in life—before we’ve properly come to appreciate what a father’s role can mean. Others among us have never known our fathers, while still others watch fathers fade into dotage, sick, senile, or otherwise diminished. There is never a perfect time to say goodbye, but when that absence, that erasure, becomes permanent, we are forced to acknowledge an essential aloneness. And that is where the formulation of self begins.

Modern South Africa was blessed with a father of such rectitude, of such presence, that we feel his absence as we would the contours of a crater formed by an act of ancient violence. I live a ten-minute stroll from Madiba’s Houghton residence and last night, as choppers thwacked above me, I fell asleep to the paradoxical sensation of being an infant without faculties, and more fully a man than I was before learning of his death. The infant part is easy to understand—I’m suddenly without a guide, a mentor, a true north. The other feeling is more difficult to come to terms with. What’s certain is that this country’s sense of self is no longer the responsibility of one man, and must now be defined by the likes of me, my family, my peers, my enemies—each one of us more human than the next.

The role of an adult, I think, is to serve, to leave something behind, to be fully oneself. And to know the way. We South Africans have had the uncommon luxury of outsourcing our morality to one of history’s giants, a man who was simply unable to disappoint. His intellectual dexterity was such that he could see the path long before it was bush-wacked, and he cleared it without violence, without bile. We relied on him, and we leaned on him, and he never buckled. But even giants fall. So here we are.

Is this the moment that the South African story properly begins? Our Tolkien period is over—our mythical villains and our great heroes are gone, and we have entered another, lesser, but no less important, age. The American President John Adams once said that he looked forward to the time when his country was governed by institutions and not by the whims of men. During America’s vibrant nascency, Adams was harkening after political maturity—when the robustness of a country’s laws and the institutions that upheld them allowed men and women to be great in different, smaller ways.

If South Africans are to acknowledge that this is the day that we fully become adults, are we willing to accept the terms? Do we, after being sons and daughters for so long, understand the responsibilities that now face us? That there are millions of consciousnesses other than our own? That the solutions to our problems are within us, and must be solved by us? That negotiation is not an option, but the option? That there is no end to the process of reconciliation, and that our art as citizens is to peel away at the layers of violence and shame that have defined us as a nation for centuries?

One of Madiba’s less salutary legacies is that his greatness has obscured the role that hundreds and thousands of South Africans have played in righting this country’s course after the fall of the last regime. Names like Sisulu, Tambo, Hani, Naiker, Naidoo—the dozens of helmsmen who touched the till at precisely the right moment, so that we weren’t dashed on the rocks of our own lunacy. The South Africa we live in is not one man’s project—it’s a family affair of violent, ungainly, illogical and masterful beauty. We broke it, we bought it.

Through it all, there was a guiding presence, a father who knew best—a role that Nelson Mandela played with an acuity that was superhuman. And despite that father’s last uncomfortable days, when his dignity was toyed with and his waning strength was tapped for purposes I believe he would never have approved of, he was still here. And we were still not forced to ask the only question that counts.

Who are we?

That ache you feel is the abject loneliness of adulthood, and the first stirrings of an answer. DM



  • comment-avatar
    Khaya'bonina 10 years ago

    Now that he is gone ,is this the end of humanity , are we going to see different South Africans without ubuntu , are the South African going to honour Mandela through respecting the rainbow nation , well i have head something different , they are presntly whispering that now he is gone , where do you come from , go back or else you will face it again .

    • comment-avatar
      Thomas Garauzive 10 years ago

      Now tha t the old man Madiba Mandela is gone, the future of a united South Africa looks bleak as the old man was a unifier with guiding principles which made some of the reconciliation hypocrites drown preaching the same word but now that Mandela is gone these figures are going to emerge showing their true colours creating halabaloo situations coupled with tensional forces. When we follow “the long walk to freedom video”, we here some top officials of the ANC intervened at a later stage after heavy incarceration and torture of the old man because of cowardness it was something eye soaring but now even after the fruition of the political gains, we hear some young people with milk still on the nose claiming party ownership and the countrys’ economy which somehow incites violence and breaches peace in the country . The South Africans must understand the role played by Mandela to bring autonomy in their own hands and look at where their conomy is and compare with other nations in southern Africa.. Not to rush to seize what you don’t own and you can’t manage only in a bizarre to destruction ….welldone father Mandela you have done your part . Rest in peace Lalani kuhle we salute you………………..African child

      • comment-avatar
        Mthwakazi 10 years ago

        @Thomas Garauzive

        Yes Mandela was a unifier; so likewise the message of national unity has continued in the ANC and the country long after Mandela stepped aside from the ANC’s and government leadership positions. I really dont see why Mandela’s departure should now change things.

        Unlike in Zimbabwe, South African politicians are very careful of what they say in public. They never say anything divisive and this is the Mandela legacy.

        I have never heard Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma accusing his political opponents of tribalism or regionalism. But such language is very common in Zimbabwe, mainly from Mugabe and Tswangirayi.

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    Khaya'bonina 10 years ago

    @Mthwakazi , you are leaving inside a bulb , be out and open your ears , we had been travelling up and down , who resulted xenophobia in South Africa , was that a call from a top leader of ANC , wake up , go out of the bulb and have fresh air .

  • comment-avatar
    MikeH 10 years ago

    South Africa ….. You have been left a legacy by Nelson Mandela, the likes of which I doubt you (or the world for that matter) will see again for a very long time. LIVE UP TO THAT LEGACY !!!

  • comment-avatar
    Khaya'bonina 10 years ago

    you are living in a bulb , please think broader , you generalise things , see the outside of the world . They had been some threats that if he goes as he was the unifier things will fall apart .This question what will happen is seculating in the streets of Joburg , the father is gone , kids will start scratching each other .