I try to understand why I am so upset about Mandela’s imminent passing. I am very clear that it is not covered by his being a ‘global icon’ and similar phrases. But it is also not covered by my trying to present some of my own tools for understanding his historical and theoretical significance in the course of the various phases of struggle.
I am trying to capture something emotional, why I am grieving. I do not like the vocabulary of miracles and dreams used to describe the SA transition with Mandela at the centre of whatever unfolded.
But the word dream captures something of what I am feeling now, a moment where I experience the shattering of a dream. The dream, is what I am sensing as short hand for what we struggled to achieve. It did not shatter in one moment. In fact it has gradually been eroded and undermined by greed and violence and attacks on our hard won democracy. Paradoxically those suffering most from the violence and corruption are the ANC’s core support base, the poorest of the poor. They are the dead at Marikana, those wounded by rubber bullets or shot at or assaulted indiscriminately in a range of circumstances or living without water or proper sanitation.
The passing of Madiba symbolises the realisation that the dream has now turned into a nightmare and it is a nightmare from which we will not wake up and simply put aside. It will be with us for some time. But did we all (even those in the struggle) have the same or a similar dream? I am no longer sure what has been fact and fiction in our liberation struggle. Whether the ANC that ‘I knew’ that is ‘not what we see now’ ever existed, whether I got it wrong or even aided in some of the factors that created the conditions that made the present possible. The present did not arise out of nowhere. Many of us intended something very different, but what did we get wrong that made what happens now possible? All of this needs a lot of reflection, but who is going to engage in that reflection, what is the forum for such discussion? Let us not engage in mythology about collective discussion and self-criticism, when there are not really ties that bind, in the way that many of us thought there were in times of danger.
None of this is a repudiation of our struggle for liberation and a vindication of those who always ‘knew’ things would go wrong, and therefore kept their distance. I am proud to have been part of what we did, but clearly some of what we did or failed to do created possibilities that some may have foreseen in different ways from others. Some may have always intended a better life for all to become a better life for a few; and from this vantage point no price is too great to be paid by others for realising this objective.
So where do we go from here? Perhaps the first thing to recognise is that where we are and what our destination may be is not something that is clear. It requires a lot of discussion in a climate of real debate, something we do not have. It will take time to work out a path forward and to know who will be joined together on that road. All of this has to be imprecise now for we have to grapple to understand the lessons from this nightmare and also re-discover what binds us and behind what programme.