/ 14 June 2013

Shouldn’t we give Mandela what he gave us – freedom?

Children play outside the Pretoria hospital where Nelson Mandela is being treated.
Children play outside the Pretoria hospital where Nelson Mandela is being treated. (Khuthala Nandipha, M&G)

On the afternoon of Tata Mandela's sixth day at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, covering the story of his lung infection has turned into a mundane process, but one that gives us a chance to pay attention to the smaller details and reflect.

Just as I lazily step out of the car caught up in uncertainties; the latest on Tata Mandela's health, if I have parked in a prime spot – a harsh tap on my shoulder springs me back to life. "How is Mandela? What have you guys done to him? What are you doing here? This is my corner, get out! A homeless man clad in layers of clothes yells at me in Zulu forcing me back into the car. 

It started out as a very interesting conversation until it became territorial, that can lead to violence. But, since I have nothing better to do, I step out of the car and engage him as to how he came to own such public property. Unable to validate his claim, and realising that I will not rent the space, which is his obvious intention, he brings the conversation back to Madiba. "How is he doing? He asks humbly.

The question, it seems would be better answered by him since he lives just across the hospital and spends his days and nights here. "Tata is not there, you should all just go," he says marching towards the media crews parked just up the road, probably going to claim more land.

As he walks away it suddenly hits me; he is right about so much, except for the property part. What are we doing here? What have we done to him?  Should he be here?

The irony about the media crews that have engulfed the hospital is that in the event that something changes in Tata's condition, being on the scene would not make us the first people to know. The office would have to call us. At the most we would be seeking visuals of Tata leaving the hospital. 

Imagine a frail, drained and sickly Tata leaving the hospital and being met by scores of photographers flashing and chasing his car, all wanting the not-so exclusive picture. Police sirens accompanying him home to Houghton where he would be met by more 'paparazzi' treatment, hovering all over his car. Family members fussing over him, a wife, an ex-wife, grandchildren that fill up the house, politicians, businessmen, helpers – all wanting assurance that he is fine, however loosely defined that word is.

"Tata is not there".

It boggles my mind to think that the most famous person in the world is spending what are probably his last days in a cold hospital environment surrounded by machines, nurses and the media. Is it so impossible to afford this statesman a comfortable, homely environment with private medical care and close family?

Could we not afford to have one specialist doctor attending to his needs in his home, in Qunu. Could he not be placed in a room with a view of the greenery of hills and valleys, listening to pre-recorded sounds of the waves crashing against giant rocks of the Port St Johns beach, listening to children's laughter playing outside with a makeshift soccer ball on the dusty streets.

Could he not have his brothers and sisters by his bedside telling him stories of the big draught that happened in 1950s after he left for Johannesburg? How the Mbashe River dried up and the cattle got thinner and milk became a commodity. Stories of what happened to that girl he used to meet up with for a rendezvous at the bottom of the river as a high school lad. Stories of what happened to the sliding rock where he used to play with other children.

Does he not deserve to be where he says he spent the happiest moments of his childhood? Could we not give him what he sacrificed his entire life for; freedom?