As the End Draws Nigh: Will Mandela's Burial Also Bury His Memory?
By Danny Schechter
New York, New York: As the body of Nelson Mandela heads for its "final rest" in the rural community where he was born, reverential exhilaration is turning into emotionally draining reflection tinged with criticism and self-criticism.
Mandela has moved from a person into a historical figure as in "now he belongs to the ages."
In the world at large, this final Mandela moment has been bathed in media attention as have earlier spectacular events like his release from prison and inauguration as President. This time, there were more than two billion social media references leading to growing backlash of negativity from those who never supported him in the first place, as if the events were a distraction from the daily news parade of war, economic decline and political scandal.
Despite his death, this saga is largely considered "positive," good news in a sea of bad. You can be sure that once he is in the ground, all you will here from media mavens is "We did Mandela, next."
Wrote the Daily Mail in London, a newspaper that has over the years disseminated nasty and questionable criticisms of Mandela (even as in the thirties it was worshipful of fascists): '... while some reflected on the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela, some world leaders saw it as the perfect opportunity to grab a quick 'selfie' with their peers - prompting a backlash from web users accusing them of undermining the seriousness of the event."
Mandela's African National Congress was more upset that when its leader Jacob Zuma was booed while Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe was cheered.
Beyond the coverage of the formal events--the talkathon by world leaders and related pomp--you did get a sense of the genuine affection in which the man they call Madiba is held by most South Africans. Wrote former labor leader Jay Naidoo wrote to me and others:
"I found the spirit of Madiba amongst the ordinary people in the queues that went to pay their respects. There were no dignitaries and celebrities here. Just the people Madiba loved, black and white, young and old, even the infirm had travelled hours and days to join the sombre lines that snaked around the streets, through parks and stadiums to pay their final respects. They were here to reclaim the legacy of Madiba and re-ignite his courage and fearlessness to demand the promise of freedom now."
At the same time, more and more critical voices began to surface, and not only on the left website where he was faulted for various betrayals and not leading the socialist revolution they hoped for or on the right where they "always knew" he nothing but a communist terrorist."
In South Africa, some the writers like Mark Gevisser, who wrote a biography of Mandela's successor Thabo Mbeki, saw the memorials as also mourning the death of idealism in what used to be called "the beloved country. He editorialized in the Mail & Guardian:
"This is a consequence of the way Mandela's legacy has been popularised: the world's embrace of him only as an icon of forgiveness and reconciliation -- of love -- rather than also as a fierce combatant for justice who turned to forgiveness and reconciliation because he understood it as the best route to the liberation of his people. It took Barack Obama, of all people, to remind the world of the latter."
Others, like labor columnist Terry Bell were willing to lash out at the "deification" of Mandela, noting "As everyone from monarchs to the labouring masses this week sought to share in the Mandela memorial moment, the myth machine went into overdrive, the very machine Mandela had so disparaged when I sat with him in his Johannesburg office in 1992. One sentence he uttered then has resonated with me throughout the years: "I am no messiah."...The virtual deification of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, would almost certainly have been anathema to the man."
I have seen several articles referring to Mandela as an aristocratic Democrat who pumped out plenty of myths himself to motivate his country to take the path of reconciliation.
Unfortunately, in his desire to pump money for jobs and services into his country he mellowed his approach to economic policy, embracing the markets and sucking up to big business who rarely honored their promises to him.