Comment & analysis
An open letter to Nelson Mandela
2013-06-27, Issue 636
You probably won’t get this because the mail doesn’t always get through to the intensive care unit at the Pretoria Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital, but I thought I’d write to you anyway.
I have a feeling that nobody tells you anything these days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You wouldn’t want to be on Facebook or have a Twitter account. It would make you angrier than Winnie ever did.
You are causing quite a commotion, I can tell you. I don’t recall ever seeing every major television network in the world running this many lead stories about an old man lying in a hospital bed. You’d laugh. I’m sure you would.
Dozens of them are out there right now, sleeping rough on the cold streets of Jozi, waiting for you to kick the bucket. Some people are calling them vultures. They aren’t, really. They just want to be there when you do decide to shuffle off this mortal coil. Knowing Jacob Zuma’s impish sense of humour, he will hold a press conference in Pretoria when he gets the call. What fun it would be to see all those outside broadcast vans scrambling for the N1. I think the Americans will get there first. As you know, they can be pretty pushy when it comes to getting what they want. After all, it was George Herbert Walker Bush who got you out of jail, not FW de Klerk. Am I right?
It’s costing the international media tens of thousands of dollars a day to maintain a presence outside your hospital. Live feeds don’t come cheap these days. They are not bad people. But you are costing them money. And there are other stories to be covered. They are hungry, thirsty, dirty and tired. Most of them, dare I say, would appreciate it tremendously if you popped off sooner rather than later.
I would like to see you make enough of a recovery to flirt with a nurse, shout at a doctor, condemn the ANC for tolerating incompetence and fostering corruption, and send the journalists sloping back to their lairs thinking it’s another false alarm. Then, quite unexpectedly, you go off to heaven to organise an armed uprising against the tyranny of God.
A reporter for the Sophiatown Sun, lost and drunk, staggers past the hospital and lands the scoop of the century. That’s the kind of poetry this country needs right now.
I’m not sure if you know this, but you do have your critics. In medieval times, they would have been burnt at the stake. However, few of us can afford steak these days. I’m sorry. This is no time for jokes.
Your critics, most of whom have good jobs and live in the suburbs, say that you were too soft on the white people. That instead of national reconciliation, there should have been a policy of national retribution. I don’t always know if they’re proposing a pound of flesh or a pound of Sterling.
Looking back, you might perhaps have done more to encourage the rich to give to the poor. Thabo Mbeki confused the rich with his sophisticated pipe-smoking ways and post-prandial, neo-Marxist, watch-out-for-the-tokoloshe talk. Then Jacob Zuma came along and scared the rich right out of the country.
I see some of your family has come to visit you. That’s lovely. Did you see Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini? Security probably blocked them because they had a bigger television crew than CNN. Imagine trying to get into the hospital by claiming that you have your own TV show called Being Mandela, but your ID says Dlamini-what-what.
Most of your judgment calls were spot on. Becoming a lawyer, for instance. That was a brilliant idea. The Boers would never have dared arrest a lawyer. Oh, wait.
But having been acquitted at Rivonia, you should have gone to ground. What the hell were you doing on the R103? You should have been on the N2. It’s quicker and the filth only put up roadblocks over Easter.
You know what else you should have done? You should have started a fitness class. Did you ever watch one of Jane Fonda’s workout videos? That would have been in 1982, the same year you were transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison.
If you had come out of jail and launched a health and lifestyle video, you would be a rich man today. Oh, right. You are a rich man. Well, you were until your lawyers, family, friends and enemies started tearing each other apart to get a slice of that big ol’ Madiba pie.
All I’m saying is that you’re still alive at 94, whereas a lot of people who didn’t spend 20 years on an island aren’t. Sure, it wasn’t exactly Humming Bird Cay in the Bahamas, but you got lots of fresh air, a fair bit of exercise in the limestone quarry, early nights, no alcohol and no women. I think I would rather die young. But that’s just me.
I won’t tell you about the things that are going on in the name of the liberation struggle because you’d probably have a heart attack and then my letter to you would be redundant. I would have wasted a couple of hours and you’d feel that you would have wasted your entire life.
Your slapping PW Botha’s hand aside in 1985 and saying, “With all due respect, Meneer Botha, if you want to free me, you have to free all of us, or you can go fuck yourself” resonated with the nation. It taught us the principle of all for one and one for all. Now it’s just a free for all. But that’s not your problem. Nor is it your fault. The white pigs emigrated and left the trough wide open for the black pigs. We are human animals. It’s our nature.
I don’t believe you stopped a genocidal bloodbath. But if you did, thank you for that. What you did do, though, was lift the name South Africa out of the rotten stinking fetid swamp that the National Party had dragged it into. You gave our country a name that we – oppressed and oppressors – could at last be proud of.
So it’s midnight on June 13th, 2013. I raise my glass to you, Madiba.
Ben Trovato is the Cape Town-based author. He also writes the Whipping Boy column for the Sunday Times. This article is taken from his blog.
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