I’ve often caught myself at odd moments wondering what would become of this great nation when Nelson Mandela died. After this past week where media reports, internet social networks and everyday trivial conversations were rife with the supposed ill health of the former president I realised that in 2011 I am not the only one wondering about that same question. As a relatively young democratic nation still bundling our way towards a united national mind state we have relied heavily on our former president, using him almost nonstop as an unflagging symbol of hope, as our very own unique icon that can give our previously tainted national identity a bit of a gleam, our very own living saviour capable of fetes never before witnessed in this country – or any other for that matter. There can be no doubt about Nelson Mandela’s stature, his unyielding humanity, his aura, built by years of living a principled life, leading from within, teaching us something about ourselves and greatness that exists.
Even the most ardent sceptic or unpatriotic fascist has to admit that the man has lived a life worthy of praise, close to godliness and one that we should all learn something from. I would know because I too fall into this category – no, perhaps not of godliness, but somewhere between what some might perceive as scepticism and unpatriotic idiosyncrasy. You see I would like to think of myself as one of those individuals so obsessed with self discovery, individual endeavour and nonconformity that I am often caught going against the tide mostly for good reasons but occasionally just for the sake of it. In doing this I have become one of those people that dislikes seeing the nation still trying to eke the last bit of hero magic from Tata uMadiba, the original man who over the years just never seemed able to fail at churning it out, whether he felt like it or not.
As a nation I think we should be mature enough to admit that we have milked the Madiba cow almost for everything that it is worth. Year after year, event after event we have asked the old man to come out of his private life in order to serve the nation once again. And now it seems he must do it again, when he is ailing, to come and save us from the horror of living with his inevitable death. I doubt that there are many 92 year olds out there living with the demands that this great man has to live with at this late and theoretically golden age when one should be left respectfully alone to contemplate the prospects of the afterlife. It was difficult for me to watch him being driven around Soccer City in a golf cart last year for the opening of the 2010 Soccer World Cup waving humbly at a rabid crowd intoxicated by a special kind of self deluding glee that only Fifa, and the South African media can create. But there he was – seen in short snippets by those of us who watched the poor TV coverage that only showed the last bit of his fairy tale ride around the colossus stadium – producing that same magic we all know him for, inspiring us and making us feel special.
This past week as the speculation about Nelson Mandela’s health did the rounds I asked myself a lot of challenging questions about this country, about myself and about my purpose in this life. I found myself thinking about how as South Africans we have become masochistically contented by our own struggles that we have created, and continue to create, long after Nelson Mandela freed us from our previous struggle. We illustrate this continually by our reluctance to let go of our very own world icon, Nelson Mandela, this same reluctance that sees us scared to free the inspired heroes within all of us, who will ensure that we overcome any struggle within and without.
I think one of the greatest things that Nelson Mandela gives us as South Africans is that feeling and knowledge that we, as a collective unit, are a great nation worthy and capable of creating great leaders. On an individual level he has freed us from within and allowed us all to dream about a future where we can fulfil personal dreams while helping and nurturing others. I for one know that I am living the dream that Nelson Mandela made possible. My work on the Transnet-Phelophepa Health Care Train allows me to fulfil personal dreams by constantly healing, sharing and being with people while simultaneously learning from them. This past week in Bloemfontein, our first of the 2011 tour, was one where we had to dig deep and find inspiration where there wasn’t none. The flooded station, caused by the tireless rain, where we had to work threatened to disrupt our services and the constant logistical problems made life more difficult than it could have been. But because we as the staff of the Phelophepa have an inspired vision, great self belief and unyielding dedication, just like Nelson Mandela, we were able to stay focused and surpass our targets quite significantly – which in itself is a great thing considering that this is our first week where we were working with basically a new staff compliment.
I know that I do not fear the death of Nelson Mandela because he has awakened something within me that can never die. This past week I was fearless – the only thing that might have frightened me just a bit were the huge green toads that were all around the station due to the floods – and held onto the desire to make a difference. I feel privileged to be able to have lived in the same time era as Nelson Mandela and even more so to be able to live a fulfilling life because of his efforts. My wish to him is not necessarily a speedy recovery, but it is that he may find peace in whichever way that he deems he should get it. I do not think that anything will be lost should he not make it through 2011. Even if he does make it, I have accepted that his time will come sooner rather than later. At least he will continue to live in part through the example of humanity that we continue to display in our work onboard the Phelophepa…