Monday, December 10, 2012

An outsider’s view of Nelson Mandela: a life to celebrate

I have no right to write about Mandela, surely.

Surely not. I’m not South African, black or white. I never met him. I have no experience of apartheid except through the media. All I have is a view from a distance, and experience of death.

When Nelson Mandela dies, celebrate him. He will die boasting a successful life that would be hard to match, and a successful death of similar stature.

When I was a kid, he was an activist; when I was a teenager, he was becoming a symbol; as a young adult, some of the things I learned about politics came from his imprisonment. Then he was released, then presidented, and then retired to honour, and loved the world over.

And he has lived to 94, and is still honoured in spite of the messes that still beset South Africa. They don’t taint Mandela: his name is so much a byword for his honour, integrity, stubbornness and will.

And in spite of that will – which must certainly mark Mandela as one of the hardest men the world has seen, both will and character intact in spite of the attacks directed against him – he remains without anyone that matters to try and deny him the honour, blacken his character, scandalize his repute in anything that matters.

And he reached the age of 94. And although probably not at home, with any good fortune, he will die relatively peacefully – not shot nor beaten to death like his fellows in the same struggle, whose ghosts must surely visit him with the guilt of the survivor from time to time – but merely old.

Old, loved, honoured and successful.

If you believed in a heaven, there is nought to weep about: Mandela will surely be there. If not, why weep? He fought, survived, achieved, and lived to a very great age.

He doesn’t need our tears. He doesn't need us. 

We need his life to be celebrated and remembered. We might want tears, but they won't make a difference.

Applaud Mandela's life. Remember him, and look around you: somewhere in the world, today’s activists throw up those who, in another half-century, will be held in the same regard. Find them, and support them, and remember that Mandela would tell you that he, and they, are human after all.

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