madibaSo Nelson Mandela is dead.

And while it is a time of sadness and mourning in many ways, it is also a time of huge relief for many of us who watched him get really really old and then really really sick and we just wished him moments out of the spotlight and a time of finally being able to rest.

It has been interesting experiencing this time of his passing – like a Twin Towers moment, the question of ‘Where were you when it was announced that Madiba had passed on?’ will no doubt stick in many peoples’ minds and be the source of stories for years to come, especially as parents try to give their children a glimpse of who this man was and what he did for our country, and even the world.

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE NEWS OF MANDELA’S DEATH BROKE?

I was sitting on our bed at home and Val came in and shared the news and we quickly found the CNN commentary and sat for a couple of minutes which became hours listening to stories and watching pictures of his life and of those gathering outside his house dancing as a united group and heard people from around the world paying tribute.

Part of it seemed quite surreal being so far away and yet I felt strangely reassured by comments and status updates from other friends of mine from South Africa who are in the UK or Canada or some of my improv mates who are doing shows in Reunion Island – we formed part of this unspoken group, brought together by the fact that we experienced the moment and the occasion while not being close enough to see the effect around the country.

So many extreme reactions and statements and experiences and reflections flying around cyberspace and the social networking arena has also added such a eclecticnicity [it should be a word!] to the proceedings – from profound remembrances like this one of Bono sharing about the man who could not cry and this one by my friend Cara sharing about her experience of meeting Mr Mandela and the reminder that there is work to be done -to more insightful challenging ones like this one titled ‘Mandela will never, ever be your minstrel’ – through subtle yet honouring messages like this one by traditionally satirical website, The Onion, which tongue-in-cheekedly claimed that Nelson Mandela would be the first politician to be missed – through to the unfortunate and ridiculous of other less known satirical websites running stories as if they were reporting real events of Kanye West claiming he will be the new Nelson Mandela or the hoax tweet allegedly posted by Paris Hilton that Nelson Mandela’s “I have a dream” speech had been a huge inspiration to her – and to the horrific yet not-too-unexpected news that the Westboro Baptist ‘church’ are at it again and are looking to picket his funeral [which honestly feels like a life-shortening endeavour] to go alongside their ‘Mandelainhell’ hashtag.

Just so many thoughts and reactions and commentaries and sights and sounds.

THE LEGACY OR THE EXAMPLE?

A lot of people have spoken of the legacy of Nelson Mandela. While others [particularly in the comments sections of various articles – seriously that is where all the troll-breeding happens – comments sections are the modern day bridges of the village path that is the internet] have taken much delight in pointing out that we are still at or near the tops of the charts when it comes to murder and violent crime and rape and so on. And that certainly doesn’t feel like a legacy worth celebrating.

I guess there was definite legacy in the fact that Nelson Mandela, released from prison after 27 years, came out in such a humble, peaceful and forgiving way and that our first all-inclusive elections which historically should have been in the midst of a civil war, were so relatively peaceful and that the transition of government took place fairly seamlessly. Mandela’s attitude and stance seemed to play such a huge role in terms of transitioning in peace. So definitely some legacy there.

But when I think of legacy I think of the idea of inheritance, of what has been left behind. And while that does include a lot of good, it also includes a lot of mess. Unfortunately, for the most part, the politicians and presidents that followed Mandela do not seem to be a huge part of that legacy. Stories of corruption, greed and nepotism break almost weekly and threaten to send South Africa the way of so many other countries.

When I look at those things, I imagine a lot of them must have made Nelson Mandela sad. I wonder how much hope he had for the nation when he watched as those, he stepped quickly out of the way of power for, did not seem to follow a lot of what he was about…

And so that is why I think I would rather choose the word ‘Example’ over that of ‘Legacy’ because that is really what we are hoping the current government and future leaders and the younger people growing up in South Africa will take on. And just like any analogy is only as strong as the point it is making, so it is important for us to remember that Nelson Mandela was not perfect, he was not a saint [which he said countless times himself [‘I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.’] and he certainly was not a Messiah [there has been and only ever will be one of those] but we can learn so much from the aspects of his life that were worth celebrating and definitely worthy of emulating in our own.

When I think of Mandela, what stands out for me was the joy with which he seemed to embrace life and freedom and leadership. He really seemed to be such a huge figure who was just able to be. His almost naughty-at-times sense of humour, his powerful and mesmerising laugh, the way he reached out to people and gave them time and attention and looked them directly in the eyes. His dancing. That stands huge as a memory of him I will hold on to for a while. The Madiba sway – hands in fists, African shirt, side to side motion with a huge smile on his face as he commanded the rhythm of the music.

THE GREATEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED

Was he the greatest man who ever lived? No, I don’t think so. Firstly because I believe that title goes to Jesus Christ. And secondly because I strongly imagine that the majority of the greatest men and women who ever lived, hardly anyone will ever know about – because they served and they loved and they gave their lives quietly behind the scenes, out of the spotlight, with no recognition, simply because they knew it to be the right thing to do. Did Nelson Mandela do some great things and demonstrate an incredible example and achieve a whole lot of good? Absolutely. We should never forget that, but we should also always hold that in perspective. Whenever you put a human being on a pedestal, at some point it is bound to crumble and crash to the ground. Because we are all flawed and messy. And therein lies what is worth celebrating – that despite his flaws and brokenness and messiness [and there was definitely that- both before and after prison] he was able to inspire and give hope and make some bold moves and express a whole lot of love.

Which, after all, is the greatest thing anyone can ever do. Love, and love well.

Rest in peace Mandela. Thank you for the example.

Advertisements