As Mandela’s Condition Improves, South Africa’s Anxiety Remains

  • Share
  • Read Later
Mike Hutchings / REUTERS

Nelson Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, on Sept. 22, 2005

As Nelson Mandela, 94, spent his fifth day in Pretoria’s Mediclinic Heart Hospital, South Africans’ alarm at his sudden decline has given way to a concern to preserve the dignity of a man who, to so many, represents the best of them and of all humanity. The respectful tone is apparent in the sparse updates on Mandela’s condition from his longtime friend, Mac Maharaj (also spokesman for President Jacob Zuma), who has been limiting the information he passes on essentially to five words: “Lung infection” and “serious but stable.” Zuma himself offered a more hopeful update on Wednesday, telling Parliament that his predecessor was “responding well to treatment” after a “difficult few days.” There has been little word from Mandela’s family, though his daughters Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindzi have all visited, as has his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The massing ranks of the world’s press have so far also played their part, observing a notable decorum by not crowding Mandela’s relatives and mostly restricting themselves to Maharaj’s occasional statements. Meanwhile South Africa’s press has taken on the role of national grief counselor. “It’s time to let him go,” was the front page of the Sunday Times this past weekend.

During the 27 years he spent as a prisoner of a racist white regime, Mandela became a global symbol of injustice. But he elevated himself to icon when, after his release in 1990, he put aside his own sacrifice and suffering and urged reconciliation rather than revenge; and then, to hold South Africa together, he formed a government with his former persecutors. His stature rose further when he retired after a single term as President in 1999, a contrast to the many African leaders, and then again in his 80s when he became a kind of sage and conscience to the world, using his eminence to promote peace and fight poverty and disease.

(MORE: Ponte City: An Apartheid-Era High Rise Mired in Myth)

Mandela has not been a presence on South Africa’s political scene for 15 years. Fears that he remains a lynchpin of the country are not only misplaced, they are, in the opinion of many South Africans, also an insult to the peace and stability that Mandela created. Mandela said as much himself 17 years ago, in a newspaper article he wrote as President in response to earlier rumors about his poor health. “A ridiculous notion is sometimes advanced that Mandela has been exclusively responsible for these real achievements of the South African people [whereas] this majority — both black and white — [made] our miracle happen.”

But there is no denying that the comparisons between Mandela and those who followed him in government, his African National Congress (ANC) or his own family, have often been unkind. Very few ANC leaders have avoided the allegations of corruption and gangsterism that have damaged the party’s reputation. Among the family, Madikizela-Mandela is a convicted fraudster and received a six-year sentence (though it was later suspended) for her involvement in the 1988 kidnapping of a 14-year-old suspected police informer, who was later found dead. Other members of Mandela’s family have long seemed to trade off his name, whether in politics, business or even, this year, in a reality TV show, Being Mandela, which starred two of his granddaughters. Such degrading of the Mandela name and principles is the guilty reality of much of modern South Africa, where the euphoria of the release from apartheid long ago gave way to a national sense of disillusionment and shame at corruption, a faltering economy, high crime and, perhaps worst, lame leadership.

Perhaps that accounts for the patient and determined propriety now settling on South Africa. Outside the hospital Wednesday, Mandla Mandela, Mandela’s grandson and chief of the Traditional Council in Mvezo, where Mandela’s family originates, told reporters the family had been “deeply touched” and “heartened by the overwhelming messages of support,” many of which also referred to Mandela as “father.” On Tuesday, Zuma told South African state television: “We are all feeling it that our President, the real father of democracy in South Africa, is in the hospital.”

Mandela’s recurrent lung infection has been successfully treated at least four times in the past six months, and there is every chance that he will make his 95th birthday next month. As it readies for another long night’s vigil, South Africa’s mood seems to be: however long he has left, however badly we sometimes failed him, we must not again, not now.

MORE: Oscar Pistorius Returns to Court Amid Arguments Over Leaked Pictures

48 comments
Catherine Puleio
Catherine Puleio

Bhudda Bless - you shall ALWAYS remain "THE HIGHER ONE"....❤

RoyStone
RoyStone

Gee, the man is 94 years old, to have attained that age under normal circumstances is a blessing, but to have endured what he has gone through borders on a miracle.  Wish him well and accept reality.

WesleyRoodt
WesleyRoodt

I'm a young South African, born in 1995. They call people my age 'Democracy Babies'. What I know of Mandela I read in history textbooks. It sort of feels like fiction to me now because in my lifetime, the only South Africa I've known has been the one riddled with corruption and crippled by poverty. The ANC has failed. Mandela was the only man of worth in the whole party. Our current 'president' is as corrupt as it gets. The parliamentary leader of the opposition party went as far as to say that all of the crises that struck our country in the last five years (and there have been many crises) can be blamed squarely on Zuma. 

I hate being so negative about my 'Rainbow Nation' but I have become so disillusioned by the ruling party's complete lack of competence on all levels and the horrendous crime-rate. I try not to watch the News every night because it depresses me. 

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is: I'm terrified our country becomes just another failed state in Africa, another Banana Republic. The ANC has failed and I worry every time I notice the similarities between them and Zanu-PF.

Chris Sampa
Chris Sampa

The temptation to want to hold on to him is pressing and we may want to, for us. But I can't help wondering, what would he say if, in private, we asked him? We love you Madiba, you are proof that there is some good within us.

Veera Marila
Veera Marila

Have you seen "Being Mandela" on tv? Surprising effort from his own family to not preserve his dignity...,speedy recovery for this hero of mankind.

Dhruv Usgaonkar
Dhruv Usgaonkar

This report is like a red-top tabloid. Obviously he has to pass away some day. And at 94, his time is up. But he shall remain forever in our hearts as an icon, and his good work shall never be forgotten.

nwiidoemmanuel
nwiidoemmanuel

@TIME ; Mandela might down in health but he is not down in spirit. I will come out stronger.

Soni Motha
Soni Motha

da end is loomin 4 da old man,il acept wateva...!

Mandy L Newell
Mandy L Newell

I agree. Maybe its time to come to terms that he is like all of us and not invincible. Show him your love, show him your respect while he is living.

Bijaya Kumar Sahu
Bijaya Kumar Sahu

Great fighter against racisim n follow non-voilence to ensure peace in SA.

Sheela Wolford
Sheela Wolford

Yes, it is time to honor his journey as he prepares to transition.

Evans Machera
Evans Machera

Sickness and old age has lowered Madibas physical strength. It must be painful on him! God is still in control.

Melchor Brix Corpuz
Melchor Brix Corpuz

Let us all pray for his total and immediate recovery. But above all, let us pray that all political leaders emulate his brand of leadership. We may not have him on Earth forever, but we can let his memories stay with us and inspire us forever. Get well soon, Sir Nelson Mandela! The whole Philippines is praying for your recovery.

Sævar Óli Helgason
Sævar Óli Helgason

I'm sorry to say... But I think it's time... So, mr. Mandela... Thanks for everything and see you on the other side... You made the world a better place... Takk...! :-(

Kim Tapio-Nuzzo
Kim Tapio-Nuzzo

Let the man go on, in rest and peace, finally. It is selfish to want him to stay.

Nyagah Mbae
Nyagah Mbae

Were u expecting him to live forever? All know that mandiba will leave us someday. There no need for alarm. The media wish him dead. Let the old man be. When he is gone u will all have chance to cover the story.

Mongol Spirit
Mongol Spirit

Good recovery insha Allah. Mandela is a man of the century and a great Hero:)

Peter Hopper
Peter Hopper

Nelson Mandela is a symbol. As a man, a fighter through peace, and a true representative of what humanity can accomplish. From Prison to Presidency!!!

Silvester Leong
Silvester Leong

I hope he gets well but we as humanity need to start walking in his shoes rather than expecting him to live forever in order to lead. Hopes and prayers to the Mandela family.

Tyler McGath
Tyler McGath

Wishing for the best. He is one of the best people ever to live on this earth.

Faisal Fransu
Faisal Fransu

He is certainly a great hero. Hope he'll get well soon!

Rogelio Arce
Rogelio Arce

I like mrs Mándela as a universal hero!

Really??
Really??

@WesleyRoodt

You sound like a TRUE AFRIKENER or whatever they call themselves - the Dutch people in South Africa.  Especially with such a SAD! article.  Are you sure you "ONLY READ IT IN HISTORY BOOKS"?