Als die FALL Redaktion erstmals zum Thema Vorbilder zusammenfand, gingen wir die großen Namen der Weltgeschichte durch – und stellten fest, dass jeder einzelne davon schal klingt. Selbst die größten Lichtgestalten sind zu Postern ihrer Zeit verkommen. Und das war es, was wir verstehen wollten. Wir einigten uns auf drei Ikonen, deren Leben an einem bestimmten Punkt zur Historie wurde – und die doch in ihrer Heilsbotschaft nicht mehr verfügbar sind: Gandhi, Mandela, Obama. Gandhi befreite Indien aus der britischen Krone und schuf eine neue Idee von Friedfertigkeit. Mandela beendete die Apartheid und wurde zur Hoffnung für ganz Afrika. Und Obama sagte das Wort „Change“ so eindrucksvoll, dass man glaubte, einer gerechteren Welt beim Entstehen zusehen zu können.
FALL hat nachgefragt, vor Ort, und um Texte gebeten, aus den Ländern, die diese Vorbilder hervorbrachten. Was ist die Innenperspektive auf die Ikonen, die wir so leidenschaftlich verklären?
Die südafrikanische Journalistin Judy Lelliott haben wir gefragt, ob das politische Erbe Mandelas hinter den grässlichen Schlagzeilen verschwindet, in denen über seinen nahenden Tod gemutmaßt wird. Von der indischen Autorin Anvaya Sardesai wollten wir wissen, ob von Gandhi mehr bleiben wird, als eine Apple-Anzeige unter dem Slogan „Think different“. Und der amerikanische Dramatiker Len Berkman erzählt uns, wie er an einer Highway-Raststätte Halt machte, um Obamas Ankündigung zur Schließung von Guantanamo im Fernsehen zu sehen. Entstanden sind drei Porträts, die uns daran erinnern, selbst zu dem großen Entwurf beizutragen, den wir unseren Ikonen abverlangen.
You will be spied on by state security agents. You will be beaten in police cells. Your spouses will be put in solitary confinement. You will be separated from your children. Your friends will suffer raids for your sake. The world will know you as a terrorist. You will be humiliated. You will be imprisoned for the rest of your natural life.
The membership form to ANC resistance movement did not read this way - but that was the guarantee. And hundreds, thousands of young men and women signed anyway. They knew what was coming. They would become an enemy of the apartheid state. But there is only one name that the entire world knows: Mandela. There are other innumerable heroes who gave up their freedom for the future of South Africa. But we do not remember them – why is that? It is not because we are ungrateful. It is because the Africa National Congress did an amazing job finding a president in Nelson Mandela.
Mandela’s entire adult life was about the movement. For 67 years he lived, breathed the movement. He became the movement. His face was the billboard advertisement for democracy - all that was fairness. Equality and freedom was embodied in this man. He was asked to serve and he did. He was asked to lead and he did, with dignity, and alacrity, and sometimes, undeniably, not without great difficulty. He was asked to be the symbol of freedom.
If you wanted to look at the ANC you looked at Nelson Mandela. That is what they still want you to see today - but you would be hard pressed to find it. They are no longer identical twins. Today the ANC puts up banners of Mandela and it feels trite, somewhat untrue. Mandela grew to giant proportions and his symbol has far outstripped the party. We have liberty and equality is far away.
The grumble of discontent is growing in the South African republic. Our much beloved statesman the Reverend Emeritus Desmond Tutu coined the phrase ‘The Rainbow Nation’. What a beautiful, intoxicating image for ourselves, and for those whose only intimate connection with our post 1994 dream were the newspaper headlines.
A few years ago we had ugly headlines: xenophobia. Before that we had another set of headlines - these may have been limited only to our borders: service delivery protests. School and government buildings were torched, running riots in the streets. Near as regular as clockwork. It seemed an epidemic. The cause: Municipalities were unable to deliver the most basic of services – no clean water, not enough clinics, no doctors, no electricity, no teachers and the list went on. For journalists it became the nom de guerre: Which protest did you cover today? Did you get any rubber bullet wounds? How are you feeling after that teargas? We learnt to wear goggles, thick hats and long sleeves. Last year it was the worst - 37 miners killed by the police during a strike. Fatal casualties on both sides. The cause? They wanted a pay raise. The worst state violence since freedom.
Every now and then the government gives us something to shake our heads about over the breakfast table and complain about on the taxi. Corruption is its name. It is swept under the carpet, classified, stamped, papered over and they hope we forget about it - several dozen collective pink elephants in our national psyche. There is profiteering from state coffers - billions have literally disappeared, the undereducated poor masses are voting fodder and politics is the fast track to unaccountable and sometimes illegal wealth.
It is getting harder and harder for us to see Mandela in this picture. It is getting harder and harder to see ideals in the movement he gave his entire adult life to. But the government tells us that he is still there in their image. It is heartbreaking. One particular moment that galled was early in April this year. The state broadcaster had an exclusive photo and video opportunity with the elder statesman. A jolly President Zuma and his entourage were shown. Lights and camera action at Mandela’s bedside - he looked bewildered and lost. It was a cruel thing to do to an old man.
It was this moment that sparked an unusual question - who is this Mandela man? Do we ever truly stop to think on that? How heavy was his burden, how did he sleep at night, what was his favorite food, did the immensity of his task - both as prisoner and as president - ever threaten to overwhelm him? And not least of all - does he not want to be left alone? We always think of him in platitudes. We have made him a saint in his own lifetime, made him the father of an entire nation. His legend is indestructible, and his person instantly recognizable. We all forget that he is a frail old man, mortal and ill. Instead we choose a collective comforting amnesia that casts him in the light of the messiah and hope these rosy spectacles will make it easier to look at what is around us.
Over the last few years Mandela has been the mantra - we are the country of Mandela, the ANC is the party of Mandela, and we are told over and over again. We are urged to remember the past. We do remember and we will never forget. Children as old as five can give you Mandela’s entire life history and that is as special as it is remarkable.
What the authorities don’t understand is that the people will never forget. And they are certainly not blind. This is the end of the beginning. It started one magical day in 1994. The critics expected violence and were thankfully disappointed. A political miracle. But today, still, the promised land and promises are too many times out of reach. We don’t have enough jobs. You may be a genius in high school but it may not earn you the privilege of university. The volatile economy is ruled by gold; electricity and water are not guaranteed except to the richest of the rich – and this is when you see protests. A critical mass is inevitable - and here the government needs to pay heed. We need to celebrate Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. We need to celebrate him and the countless hundreds and thousands other freedom fighters that signed the membership form to the resistance and struggle. We cling to them as if they will save us from our present struggle: the struggle for opportunity and equality. They have already saved us. And we must never use their faces and names to cover our own failures. They have done their job. We need to do ours.
___Judy Lelliott, freelance multimedia and print journalist living in Johannesburg. She writes for The Media Magazine and contributes to Drum Magazine and the City Press newspaper. “I love storytelling, it’s a way of life, the whole of human history is one long story after all.”