It is Nelson Rolihlala Mandela's 94th birthday today, and as the day winds down, and I can hear the white South Africans next door enjoying their dinner whilst sitting by their swimming pool, I have to wonder about his legacy.
Mandela is undoubtedly a great man, and has lived a life worthy of several movies, and a few have been made. Today I had to search for a number of books about the great man and what I have always known was once again made clear. Most of the books written about Mandela are by white people. Most of the people in South Africa who constantly talk about him so fondly are white people. He's like their god, or, as a BFF once said, “They've passed him for honorary white.” At least this has been my experience. I am not alone in thinking this. I think, almost like the Rev Martin Luther King, Mandela had a dream. He dreamed that his little great-grandchildren could live in a non-racial society, and he dreamed of a place that many could call the 'Rainbow Nation'. Yet it still remains a dream as racism is still rampant, black folk are still the poorest and live in horrid conditions. People do get along in pockets, but I struggle to find this Rainbow Nation concept, and I believe it still remains a fantasy not a fact. White folk seem to have been forgiven rather quickly, without doing the hard work necessary for true reconciliation. Without, sometimes, real remorse.
The number one trending topic on SA Twitter streets on his 94th birthday was #HowMandelaSoldUsOut. This was a response to the anonymously written article that appeared on a well-known South African news site. To be honest, a few history lessons would clear up the confusion, because some compromise had to be made. But there are people who feel Mandela's ANC sold the people down the river. And when we say people, we aint talkin white folk. Them folk been swimming, canoeing, kite-sailing, surfing and all manner of water sports for you to be thinking they made a deal with Neptune, Yemaya and all the water sprites of the world. They bought that water and are enjoying its benefits til this day. But meanwhile, back on dry land…
As I listen to the poolside laughter and chatter, and clinking of silverware against china next door, I have to wonder what it is about this country that makes it such a strange place to live in. Well, for one, Mandela's Rainbow Nation is a fallacy. The obsessions over race that the Apartheid regime had clash uncomfortably with the what is supposed to be a non-racial and non-sexist society. You can breathe in racism almost every day, especially in Cape Town. I was walking home from work today, as it was finally sunny and warm and this was the best exercise I was going to get.
Normally at this time of day the blacks and so-called coloureds are walking or running to catch the train home to the townships. All day they've been working for someone else for little pay, far from what could loosely be termed a home. I am usually one of the few black people going uphill. This should tell you about my neighbourhood. What upset me today, as it always does, was the white woman and her white dog getting out of her nice house in this burb to take her maid to the train station, or closer to home. The maid gave me such a look of contempt I wondered what it was about. I con
tinued on and saw my first jogger and his dog. He made it to the park and ran around there some more, while a homeless woman lay on a tattered blanket. Needless to say, she was not white, like most of the city's poor or homeless. I carried on up the road, looking at Table Mountain in the twilight. I passed a black security guard, guarding a complex I have only ever seen white people come in and out of. More joggers ensued. I recalled an African-American comedian saying how “white people are the jogginest folk” but immediately what came to mind was the difference in this neaighbourhood and my brother's neighbourhood in Joburg, where black people were the jogginest folk.
It's always been clear to me that Cape Town is the most segregated of South Africa's cities, and having lived in other parts of the country I can say this with some experience. But it is also here that I have made my home, and initially quietly observed that transformation in this country was slow. There are networks that some people have formed, that keep them in certain industries, and keep others out. White people themselves have been the first to admit this, because it's not a secret and they talk openly, airing their prejudices quite easily and without fear of censure. Which makes it both a fascinating and maddening place to live. Yes, the government is corrupt, and this does make running the place effectively that much harder, and harder for those on the receiving end of their non-delivery of services. We get it. It's not just white folk who have been nor are still messing up. But looking at who is deemed a saint or a sinner in this country often has less of the sting of truth and more of the taste of prejudice.
Yet the hope for Mandela's country, a country which we have all yet to see in full effect, is there. Those who cannot abide the culture of sainthood surrounding the former president speak freely and openly, and there are many. Yet, societies as torn asunder as South Africa sometimes do need heroes, someone to look up to collectively, as someone who holds things together while the rest is falling apart. There is no one common culture that South Africans have, and it seems the cult of Mandela may very well be the one thing they all have in common.
This tweet today made me smile – writer Rebecca Davis, tweeting at @becsplanb said: Of course I love Mandela, for his vision of a non-racial society and letting us whites keep our swimming pools.
(Of course I love Mandela, for his vision of a non-racial society and letting us whites keep our swimming pools) — Rebecca Davis (@becsplanb) July 18, 2012
And if you really haven't let me turn you off all the self-congratulatory 67 minutes of do-gooding on Mandela Day (when it should be a more permanent fixture of service in your life) then I hope you enjoyed it and it that it will actually help someone.
Here's a Mandela video that retells his story via social media. Look out for the first sighting of uMam'Winnie
Happy Birthday Tata! (Yes, I adore him, despite what I've said. He fought for my right to live where I want to, hold my head high, hold opinions in this country and not be jailed for them. Ngiyabonga Tata.)