I have a long love affair with South Africa which began when I went to live there as in exchange student in 1982. Back then, cosseted in white society I learned to fear the ANC as a party of terrorists hell bent on hatred.
In the following years I learned about what the ANC were largely fighting for (there is seldom one vision in any movement being as it is run by humans - many varied flawed and fickle as we are) I could see that rather than terrorists, the ANC were fighting for a new vision, for justice and freedom.
I was lucky enough to be in South Africa on the day that they voted the ANC to power. I stood with my friend for hours in the hot sun, with the line of people snaking into the shimmering heat. All waiting patiently, with smiles and subdued joy, at the chance to raise their country up. Begin in a new way.
I was there to hear a white man, steeped as he was in the history he had marinated in, listen to Mandela offer his acceptance speech and whisper "Man, this kaffir can talk" That is offensive yes. But he was also, possibly for the first time in his life hear a man whom he was programmed to dismiss because of his race, speak with vision, clarity, and immense power. It was a moment I will never forget.
Now that Mandela has passed, thankfully, the months of limbo are unimaginable, there is a sanitisation going on that alarms me. I understand the very human need to have heroes and heroines. But in only remembering the sweet parts of the man we deny his wholeness. We need to remember his belief in the need to have an armed struggle. In support of powers that the US does not like.Here is a link that begins to talk about some of this.
And I believe we need to do this not only to truly honour Mandela but to honour ourselves. When we hold someone up in a saintly light we remove them from our reach, our ken. When they are so far removed from us in their state of pious we can do no wrongness, we relieve ourselves of the responsibility to step up with an "oh but they were special and I am so flawed I can't ...."
To honour Madiba we must claim our ability to do as he did. To be a whole human being reaching for the very best offering we can make. To do what it is we are called to do to make the world a better place.
To rob him of his wholeness is to dilute his legacy. I will not do that.
Go well Madiba. Thank you.