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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Blog 63. Nelson Mandela – If Not a Prophet....

It’s true that if you were fortunate enough to meet Nelson Mandela the experience endured. To look up into that strong handsome face, hear that unmistakable voice and be caught in the radiance of his energy was, for me as for many others, remarkable. I have met many people who think they are important or charismatic. It’s not easy to imagine any of them eliciting the eruption of near hysterical joy that Mr. Mandela caused when he danced spontaneously on an open air stage in Glasgow (blog 44.) But years later, and in the aftermath of his new absence, it is people’s resistance to enlightenment that is puzzling.

From his own mouth Mandela insisted that he was not a prophet but surely that was because he perceived what people saw in him; the statement contains its own dichotomy.

Desmond Tutu is justified and entitled to point to failures and proclaim that Mandela was no saint. I must admit I am not someone who has great use for those strange creatures anyway. Tutu has also the gravitas and track record to be listened to when he points out that the ANC is being undermined by corruption and led by the kind of figure African countries are burdened with all too often.

Makaziwe Mandela spoke movingly of the father who did not, along with many men of his generation, have the emotional language to communicate with those he loved. She is also an important reminder of the horrendous personal toll on the Mandela family and the man himself. It is hard to read in Long Walk to Freedom the account of this famous prisoner being led into a room where he embraced his then wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, only to realise it had been 21 years since he had even touched his wife’s hand.

But he is not revered as a saint, nor as a perfect family man but as someone who had a magnificent vision of the possibilities for his country and dedicated his life to encouraging others to believe in that potential.

Not just by his near three decades of incarceration but in his manner of dealing with that tribulation, Mandela earned the right to have his words taken at face value.  He cannot be held responsible for whether or not people took heed. Preachers, prophets, leaders and dreamers show us the light. Sometimes the light is so bright we can see the rainbow. But rainbows are less than ephemeral. Before this one faded, a minority was already working out how to grab the pot of gold for themselves.

What is a prophet if not someone who can see the ideal that the rest of us fail to comprehend? What is a prophet if not the visionary and the dreamer who puts those ideals and ideas into words and makes us listen?

Few would argue that Gandhi did not walk in the spiritual shoes of Jesus. The unadulterated words of the prophet Mohamed surely echo true humanity. And in the year that we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the resounding, ground-breaking speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, we have lost the most iconic humanitarian of our time, Nelson Mandela.

As the leaders of the world in its current state, divided, war torn, starving, scuttle into news rooms to have their say, will any of them recall the words of Nelson Mandela, “poverty is manmade”? Will they recall that Dr King dreamt of ultimate equality or Ghandi of religious tolerance and an end to oppression or Jesus and Mohamed of love and respect?

Earlier in the day that ended with the passing of this Robben Island survivor, I listened to a report from a giant penal institution in California USA. I stood frozen in my kitchen as I heard the harrowing, secretly recorded screams of a mentally disturbed man in confinement being repeatedly pepper sprayed by prison guards LEGALLY. His pitiful terrified shrieks for mercy were sickening – in 2013 in the country that regards itself as leader of the free world.

Britain spends many millions more on weapons than on aid and people are dying under collapsed factories in one part of the world so another part can have cheap commodities. Last Thursday, George Osborne announced that Britain was ‘moving again’ – but surely leaving behind those folk in the queues at the food banks, the school leavers who can’t read and those with personal debt that will crush them.

In my head I see a personified figure of God, possibly an image that solidified in my childhood at Sunday school; a large man with an impressive beard upon high. Now he is somewhat bent and tired. He stares out wearily into the middle distance while angels weep for the passing of another of their own.
Meanwhile, downstairs the other fellow laughs heartily.

(no cartoons this week but if you want to look at the collection so far click on the orange 'Amanda Baker' at the top of the right hand column of the blog)

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