A freedom fighting unit does not make a good political partyby Desmond Tutu / May 10, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Desmond Tutu greets Nelson Mandela after his release from priso in 1990 © David Turnley/Corbis
The news bulletins we are getting about Nelson Mandela indicate that there has been a resurgence of lung trouble. I haven’t been to see him—I didn’t think they would want to be bothered too greatly—but I sent a text message to his wife, Graça.
My concern is that we are not preparing ourselves, as a nation, for the time when the inevitable happens. He’s 94, he’s had a rough time, and God has been very, very good in sparing him for us these many years. But the trauma of his passing is going to be very much intensified if we do not begin to prepare ourselves for the fact that this is going to happen at some time.
At present, people who might want to offer criticisms about the political dispensation may be inhibited from doing so. People who might otherwise vote for different parties are constrained by the sense that it would be a slap in the face to Mandela. These issues are going to intensify what would in any case be a very traumatic experience.
We’ve had a similar experience before, when Chris Hani, leader of the South African Communist party, was assassinated in 1993. Our country nearly went up in flames. Mercifully it didn’t, partly because the apartheid government were sensible enough to realise they would have to ask Mandela, who was not yet president, to address the nation and appeal for calm. We have had a trauma of that intensity before, but this time it’s very difficult to know to whom the people could turn who would have the same charisma and authority to console and calm them.
We should be preparing ourselves by erecting a memorial to him—but not a physical one. The best memorial to Nelson Mandela would be a democracy that was really up and running; a democracy in which every single person in South Africa knew that they mattered and where other people knew that each person mattered.