The past few months have had our nation and much of the rest of the world wondering what the truth is a about the health of Nelson Mandela, first president of the democratic Republic of South Africa. He’s been into hospital and out again on several occasions, with the ANC government telling us all that everything’s “routine.” It now seems that there’s been very little of the routine about the deep illness of a very old man who’s being kept alive for political purposes.
After all that’s happened, including the deaths of eleven medical and Air Force personnel on an ill-conceived flight from Gauteng to the Eastern Cape, we now have a situation that is closer to the truth, except that the truth is still securely tucked away somewhere. The poor old man is incarcerated in a medical facility in Pretoria, with the world’s press camped out on the pavements, hordes of people of all persuasions and backgrounds rubbing shoulders, posting tributes and messages of goodwill, and prayers being offered throughout the world for the recovery of this frail man whose days have long since been spent on the grand work he did.
And still the truth eludes the people of South Africa, and indeed of the world. Medical science and logical treatment seem hamstrung by the traditional convictions of Mandela’s family and people, and arguments rage in the family about essentially unrelated issues like exhumations and reburials of family members. The duplicitous government that we are saddled with has for many weeks declined to tell us the truth, and has at last got as far as admitting that the former president is “critical.” Next, we have a family member claiming that Mr Mandela is “stable.” What are we supposed to believe? Certainly nothing emanating from the President’s Office or the Union Buildings.
To add more fuel to the blaze, The Guardian quotes “a reliable source,” stating that the life support systems keeping the patient alive have been switched off, and launches into a eulogy that seems to have been prepared a long while back, and must be used as a scoop. Is the Guardian right? News.24 says the man is still being treated in hospital. The ticker-tapes on Sky News and ETV news channel are devoted to any and all other topics and breaking items. And still we wait.
Why have we been fed the untruths and half-truths that have been our sole source of news regarding the illness and state of a man who is a world figure, rightly or wrongly perhaps the equivalent in public estimation of the president of the United States? Has there been some kind of secret agenda in progress that denied the very citizens whose wellbeing was enhanced by Mandela since his presidency knowledge of his condition. And if so, why?
The only conclusion I’ve been able to reach is that it has been politically expedient for the ANC leadership to keep the legend alive for as long as possible, but I’ve not been able to find a reason for such an inhumane, cruel and macabre decision. Mr Mandela has been severely ill for a long time now, and has been sentenced to life by his own people for their own gain, political or economic. Add to that the desperate and unseemly family squabbles and intrigues that have been going on for some years now about rights to the art and financial legacies, and I suspect that the old man probably wished to die long ago. But he wasn’t allowed to.
And so today the world hurries up and waits some more. Those who truly love the man are distraught at the extended suffering he’s enduring, those who wish him gone to clear their paths are frustrated, the newshounds grow tired of the sidewalk in Pretoria, and those of us who have respect for life in general are appalled at the insensitivity of whoever is making the decisions.
If we can’t have the truth, as mature people, at least allow the final day or days of the revered man to include dignity. I’m no disciple of Mandela or of the ruling party, but this process has kindled a deep sympathy in me for a man who’s come to mean so much to the world in many ways, and has reinforced my cynicism toward and detestation of the ruling clique in this poor, beautiful land, with its people who, in the face of this sadistic treatment, stand as united as they have been and probably as ever they will be.
Viva Madiba. Thank you. Hamba kahle. You deserved better fromyour own people.