The coverage of Nelson Mandela’s funeral show a difference in perception of Mandela, the man and the myth. As all living former US Presidents huddled together on Air Force One with the current President Obama headed to South Africa to pay their last respects to Mandela the father of South Africa it was evident that the man was a global icon.
The legacy of Nelson Mandela in the Western hemisphere is that of the peacemaker, the statesman and symbol of democracy, trendsetter, the President equated in the same vein as George Washington America’s first president who stepped down from power and set the precedent of peaceful transition of power.
In Africa on the other hand celebrated Mandela the liberator, emancipator who stood tall and resisted apartheid until the apartheid regime came to the bargaining table. There are some in Soweto who feel however that Mandela did not do enough to end their plight because Soweto was one of those areas that felt the brunt of apartheid laws with limited force and police brutality which were all aimed at suppressing the black existence in their own country.
It is important that Mandela pursued reconciliation and prevented a civil war as he has seen in other countries notably in Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. War is costly in lives and infrastructure and destroys communities which can never be rebuilt again.
Mandela was perhaps more the conserver of the structure than the transformer that many had hoped that he would be. The man had spent twenty seven years imprisoned at Robben Island so who could blame him if he wanted a peaceful transition. The country was tired of fighting, too many lives had been lost. In the words of a renowned South African musician, “something worth living for is not worth dying for”.
Mandela probably should have done more to demystify the perceptions of Boer superiority and African inferiority. He should have expanded education to ensure that more people would go to school to enable to take the economic reins of their nature in the future. Youth unemployment in South Africa is currently very high because at the onset of the rainbow nation the fundamental inequality structures were kept in place.
The Mandela narrative fits well into the way that history is packaged in the western perspective. The idea of the one individual elevated and the rest of the people who worked with the individuals. In West Africa they have a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Mandela said it best when he was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey and stated
“I wanted to be known as ‘Mandela. “I knew it was not the contribution of one individual which would bring about liberation and the peaceful transformation of the country. And my first task when I came out [of prison] was to destroy the myth that I was something other than an ordinary human being.”