At least now, Nelson Mandela won’t have any sleepless nights coping with an unseemly family feud over money and property.
The tribal chiefs of his branch of the Xhosa people have urged the family to follow the lead of Graca Machel, his widely respected third wife of 18 years, the only member of the extended family never accused of seeking publicity or self-promotion. She took loving care of him as he aged until his diseased body gave out after he turned 95.
Also, now, he doesn’t have to listen to the woulda, coulda, shoulda brigade of know-it-alls who were not part of the liberation, but who now invoke his memory only to accuse him simplistically of selling out and other betrayals.
Yes, there is a debate to be had on what was and was not achieved in the first twenty years of South Africa’s hard fought struggle for democracy, but to be dismissive of his courage does history a disservice.
South Africans didn’t vote for neo-liberalism but adopted it when it was foisted on them because they needed help from the West. Some in the ANC supported it for personal material reasons. The ANC focused on winning political power but corporate power there was, as it is here, resistant to deeper change and a corrupting force.
His iconic image has survived all of this noise on the left, the right and in the opportunistic center. Ninety-one heads of state paid respects at his memorial service, and, then, the United Nations General Assembly staged an unprecedented tribute that brought nations of all orientations together to sing his praises.
What African leader has ever enjoyed such adulation and admiration?
No, make that, what modern political leader sentenced to life imprisonment for terrorism ever went from a most wanted man in that sense to the most loved man in the world?
You can count the well-known personalities that live up to his reputation on one finger of one hand.
At the same time, as I explain in my new book, Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela (Seven Stories Press) it is inaccurate to stereotype him as a revolutionary saint, or South African Santa Claus, or as the man who waved a magic want to free his country.
His funeral was the very type of spectacle he would have hated, focusing just on him, and not the collective leadership of his movement he insisted deserved all the credit.
Those of us who watched the memorial on TV were upset by all the attention given to that mentally ill self-styled sign language interpreter who now boasts of being a “fake,” and the amount of airtime devoted to President Obama’s “selfie” photo.
Most Americans don’t know there was a similar criticism in Johannesburg’s Mail & Guardian of South African kids who got caught up in the media frenzy and were endlessly snapping photos of themselves at his home for distribution to their Facebook and Twitter friends.
There was more discussion of being there than what Madiba’s passing meant for the country and the world. They reveled in their ‘fifteen seconds’ of fame by tagging on to a leader who has been in the spotlight for decades.