It has been an interesting experience processing both the death and burial of Nelson Mandela from distant shores. Whilst I would have loved to have been home amongst ‘my people’ to fully enter into the emotion, celebration, mourning and expression of this momentous yet inevitable event, being in Dubai and then Switzerland has afforded something of a unique perspective on my homeland.
For one thing, I more fully appreciate what President Obama meant when he thanked South Africa in his speech at the memorial for ‘sharing Madiba with the world.’ Mandela was truly loved and ‘owned’ by everyone. His family was not confined to those sharing his home, his clan or his fellow countrymen; his family truly was universal like few others have ever known. He was it seems, more than a father to modern South Africa, he was a ‘father’ figure to any who cherish the ideals for which he dedicated his life; a ‘father’ to all who carry hope where there is done, to any who dare dream the impossible.
Writing in the International New York Times, Nicholas Kulish writes the following: ‘To some, Mr Mandela’s passing offers the opportunity to shed the notion that South Africa’s transition from white rule to democracy was a miracle rather than a hard won compromise’. He then quotes Steven Friedman, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg as saying, “The idea that a miracle occurred in South Africa is a profoundly unhelpful one. We have had some successes and also a lot of setbacks, but no miracles that I can think of”.
Well then Mr Friedman, clearly you have not thought enough.
The democratic transition in South Africa was certainly based on some hard won compromise. However, without understanding what took place in part as ‘miraculous’- is to deny an important and often unexplainable aspect of the transition. To ascribe what took place to mere politicking and negotiation is to turn a blind eye to where the real change took place – a change of heart, emotion and vision. In the case of South Africa both were essential to the overall outcome and to try and discard one at the expense of the other is well…not thinking enough. It amount to a failure in understanding that goes beyond mere ‘thinking’ and analysis.
The Chinese don’t dichotomise between head and heart; the Chines talk about ‘thinking with your heart’. Maybe this is the oversight that those who ‘study’ such transitions have missed in the miracle that was and is South Africa. Of course, what we do with that miraculous gift – well, that is another matter entirely.
I believe in miracles and I suspect that Madiba did too. It was something that all who had the privilege to engage with him instantly felt. ‘Madiba magic’ it has been called, and that same ‘Madiba magic’ undoubtedly formed part of a bigger, broader ‘miracle’ – that which cannot be explained but is very real nonetheless.