Free Mandela - from the ANC
None of us have any way of knowing what former president Nelson Mandela was thinking or feeling when the cameras were rolling on Monday, because he said nothing. Why the ANC felt the need to present him in the manner in which it did remains a mystery.
We have always been satisfied with the reports from the presidency regarding Mandela's health status. The only time we were unhappy was when we were not getting proper updates after he was hospitalised in January 2011. Since then, the presidency has done a sterling job in announcing when he was going for medical tests and when he was being released from hospital. We were satisfied with those reports. On January 27 2011, Mandela released a statement, which said, "I am not sick, I'm old."
ANC and government dignitaries have visited Mandela many times before without the need to have cameras. What changed?
We can only speculate as to why he was hauled in front of the cameras this time around. Perhaps the ANC felt the need to assert its ownership of Mandela after the Democratic Alliance tried to claim him as theirs. The ruling party showed that it has access to him, while the DA does not, therefore proving that he truly belongs to the ANC. Both the ANC president Jacob Zuma and the party's deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa were present.
Perhaps the ANC felt the need to prove to the world that Mandela is an ANC member. All South Africans know this. There is no need to prove anything. Let the DA scream and shout all it wants, we know that he is synonymous with the ANC, and there is nothing the DA can do about that. Don't fall for every trap the DA sets you.
We get why the party felt the need to present him before cameras, but the wisdom of going ahead with it has to be questioned. On paper, to show the old man is a good idea, but to show him the way he is now, is not a great one.
That footage of Mandela being shown off in front of cameras reminded me of a picture of him taken in 1977, while he was still a prisoner on Robben Island.
In the video released on Monday, he looked like a man who didn't want to be there. It was so hard and painful to see. He looks tired and unimpressed all at once. Everyone around him is all smiles, yet he doesn't smile for one moment. This brings me back to the picture taken of him on Robben Island, which is now famously known as A Prisoner in the Garden.
The apartheid government invited the press to prison to take pictures of Mandela and the other prisoners to show that they were being treated "well".
In his book, A Long Walk to Freedom, he recounts the events of that day. The prison authorities made sure that they looked "presentable". The prisoners then knew that something was up. While they were working in the mine quarry, members of the press invited to Robben Island came across the prisoners and took pictures. In video footage of the event, one can see other prisoners working. When Mandela saw the photographers, he just stood there with his left hand folded in a fist resting on his waist. And his right hand holding on to the hand of a spade as he leaned against it. He stood there like a lion protecting its cubs.
All the prisoners wore shades to protect them from the glare of the limestone, which is why, to this day, all photographers are instructed not to use cameras with flashes because of the damage done to Mandela's eyes while on Robben Island. There is an angry and defiant expression on his face in A Prisoner in the Garden. The anger in his eyes is hidden behind the sunglasses, but you can't mistake the pure fury of the moment.
The look on his face as he was being paraded on Monday reminded me of that picture. I am not saying that it is the same thing, but the connection between that moment and what we saw on Monday just dug up those memories for me.
Even this column feels exploitative of his name. But I think it's time we left him in peace. He did say he is out of public life, yet we keep dragging him back. The man who fought to free us is now a prisoner of the liberation movement he once led, it seems.
Perhaps being caught up in the emotion of the moment, that sounds harsh. But can't we just leave the man alone with his family? His family needs to do a better job of protecting him in this advanced stage of his life. He is not a mascot that needs to be brought out for big events. There was something undignified about the whole affair. All we want from the presidency are reports on his health status; we are not interested in seeing him being paraded.