‘Man­dela’s Last Years’ writ­ten with com­pas­sion

The Star Early Edition - - LETTERS - Dr Michael Schaaf

I READ Lieu­tenant-Gen­eral Ve­jay­nand Ram­lakan’s book last week and en­joyed it. Don’t get me wrong! I didn’t get plea­sure out of read­ing about Madiba’s suf­fer­ing – the op­po­site is true: it was heart break­ing to re-live the death of our icon.

The book goes fur­ther than shal­low sen­sa­tion­al­ism and, for the first time, pub­licly ex­plains and demon­strates the enor­mous willpower and men­tal strength Madiba had, even in his last years.

He was a fighter right up un­til the end and en­joyed life and be­ing alive. His fam­ily and his doc­tors did their best to al­low him to have a dig­ni­fied life un­til he passed away.

It is not im­por­tant who held his hand in the last mo­ment. It was, how­ever, vi­tal he didn’t die alone and that those who he loved most were there when he took his last breath.

I couldn’t find any sen­si­tive or de­grad­ing facts in the book. The fact that the am­bu­lance broke down on its way to the Medi­clinic Heart Hospi­tal in Pretoria in June 2013 came out two weeks later.

Any­one with ba­sic knowl­edge in medicine would know Madiba at that time had a perm­cath and would prob­a­bly have been tube fed through the nose and some­times even put on a ven­ti­la­tor. Does that take away his dig­nity? Well, then we should re­move all dial­y­sis and ven­ti­la­tion ma­chines from hos­pi­tals.

Only once did the au­thor re­veal blood pres­sure and pulse rate data. Madiba him­self had recorded these from time to time dur­ing his prison years and even pub­lished them later (Con­ver­sa­tions with My­self 2010).

Dig­nity is im­por­tant but it isn’t a moral con­stant but a time de­pen­dent vari­able. What might have been re­garded as sac­ri­le­gious or crim­i­nal at the time, has cen­turies or even decades later been ap­proved as a his­tor­i­cally or legally valu­able act of re­search.

Just think of the ex­huma­tion of Ty­cho Brahe’s re­mains in Prague 2010 and Pablo Neruda’s re­mains on the Isla Ne­gra in 2013, to prove they might have been poi­soned (they weren’t). A cou­ple of weeks ago, Sal­vador Dalí’s em­balmed body has been ex­humed to get ev­i­dence in a pa­ter­nity trial.

Man­dela’s Last Years is a book writ­ten with com­pas­sion, great ad­mi­ra­tion and af­fec­tion for Madiba. It’s a pity it is now de­nied a well-de­served wider cir­cu­la­tion. Hope­fully the pub­lic and univer­sity li­braries got their copies in time. Sand­ton

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