Mandela’s difficult vision is ours to fulfil
Tception. HE greater the distance we travel from the heady days of ANC leader Nelson Mandela emerging from prison to assume a decisive role in refashioning our country, it seems the harder it is for many to regain the sense of opti- mism of the Mandela years. Mandela has suffered from two extremes of per- On one hand, he has been lionised out of shape, chiefly out of well-meaning sentimentality, but one that makes it harder for many people to see him as an altogether human figure – with his foibles and flaws – or as the pragmatic and mostly wise polit- ician and party leader he undoubtedly was. By the time of his release, the mystique was such that, as his biographer Anthony Sampson wrote, attempting “to portray the Nelson Mandela behind the icon… is rather like trying to make out some- one’s shape from the wrong side of the arc-lights”. The glare of fame and mythology, he implied, could obscure the real man. There are also those who, by emphasising the role played by this indisputably great leader, would overlook the extent to which Mandela was part of a collective ANC leadership. On the other hand, Mandela has also been the object of harsh revisionism by some who feel that when he sanctified the 1994 settlement, a sum of hard-fought compromises by interests whose ri- valry had been bloody, he sold out a revolution in- tended to cut white supremacy down to size. But at a time when so many South Africans seem content to opt for parochial havens – of race, of cul- ture or geography – to define their sense of identity, of being “at home”, it is worth remembering it was this very parochialism Mandela defied in asserting the value of a common South Africanhood. Yet he never claimed it had been achieved; the implicit challenge of his difficult life remains ours to shoulder.