South Park Self

desires and dreams and powers and everything but sleep

I don't know if it's possible to be South African and not be moved, in some way, by Mandela's death: I know I started crying when I saw the newspaper headlines on the way up to work. He's such a figure of integrity, a miraculously unblemished icon whose image has managed to survive the self-seeking venality of modern politics almost unscathed, a gentle, paternal guide to our flawed and struggling democracy. He embodies, in a sense, reconciliation: he's the hook we've hung it on. With the possible exception of AWB die-hards and their noxious and irrelevant ilk we all love Madiba, if only in the unrealistic and complex way we invest in him as a symbol entirely apart from his actual identity as a man and his inevitable errors as a politician. And his death is both loss, and a curious relief: he was very old, and very tired, and very helpless, struggling under the load of a disgusting family embroiled in disgusting squabbles as well as the weight of emotional and ideological investment of the nation and the world. I'm glad we finally let him go. He deserves a rest.

But there's a very specific way that Madiba's death impacts on me given that I'm not actually South African. His life has, after all, a whole new layer of meaning and implication if you're a Zimbabwean, because he becomes the emblem for a process of political change which has worked, for a given value of "work", in South Africa in a way it has no-where else in Africa. Modern politics is an ugly landscape anywhere in the world, riddled with self-serving, power-hungry viciousness harnessed largely in the service of a moneyed elite whose religion is the absolute validity of accumulation by depriving others. In Africa, with its horrible colonial legacy, that global tendency is exacerbated by a fabric of power warped and twisted by a history of racial division and inequality, adding further awful resonances to entitlement and redistribution. Zimbabwe is one of the most disastrous and unpleasant examples of the classic African regime change, a new black political class adopting wholesale the least defensible and human aspects of the Western political system - corruption, greed, callous disregard for the powerless, all masked or justified by ideological spouting. That unchecked political selfishness has destroyed the country, reducing the viable economy of an agriculturally rich and productive nation to rubble, through which an oppressive political regime still picks for scraps.

Losing Madiba feels as though we've lost both a possibility, and a perimeter. Zimbabwe is irredeemable, but as long as Mandela existed there was a sort of symbolic assurance that South Africa would not share its fate; that the greater good of the country was actually more important than the personal aggrandizement of politicians; that Zuma would not turn out to be Mugabe. Of course, Mandela has not literally been a moral choke-chain on South Africa's potentially ravening pack of political hounds, because the poor man retired from politics a decade ago and presumably had very little input on policy in recent years. But to someone already rendered paranoid by the destruction and loss of their country, the relative lack of disaster in the last couple of South African presidencies is only a precarious hope: global and African trends alike suggest that it could all go to hell in a handbasket as a moment's notice. Mandela's legacy has felt the stronger and more instrumental because of his actual existence; now, in his definitive absence it's as though a constraint has been removed, a moral centre has been lost. And I hope to hell that I'm simply caught up in the process by which we've constructed him as a figure of fatherly oversight, and that these are entirely irrational insecurities, but I'm not only sad: I'm (a bit, irrationally) afraid.

Subject line from Swinburne's "Garden of Proserpine", which is the piece of poetry which, quite apart from my love of its heavy, drowsy, sensual cadences, most embodies my consolatory sense of death as rest.
I honestly don't see it going that way. The general unrest and the booing of Zuma at the memorial definitely means his days are numbered. The time for violent change passed 20 years ago. I think that now everyone just wants a decent life for them and theirs, and they'll make it known in the next election. I think many people and media reports make the populace into mindless rabble who can't think for themselves and follow their leader blindly but times they are a-changing. There's a growing scepticism towards populist leaders.