Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|July 17, 2021|4 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

Rise Mandela please.

I am sure the old man is spinning in his grave today as large parts of the country he fought to build lies in ashes. Infrastructure smashed, business destroyed, food short and frightened children hungry.

It would have been Nelson Mandela’s 103rd birthday on July 18, at the end of a week when democratic South Africa was torn to shreds by violence, fire and fury along with a slew of revolting looting that going to kill scores of entrepreneurial dreams.

There can’t be a day when I don’t think of the old man; with his humour, charisma and common sense.

It is nearly 10 years since he left us and his class, wit and charm in government is as sorely missed as the man himself. He was a leader par excellence as I saw first-hand.

Compare the nervous steps President Cyril Ramaphosa took in KwaZulu Natal this week, with bodyguards left-right and centre, with Mandela’s strides when the chips were down in the troubled province, in 1990, when conflict threatened civil war.

Just over two weeks after emerging from 27 years in prison, Mandela made a statesmanlike speech in Durban to a sun-scorched 200,000-strong crowd that probably helped save a lot of lives and misery.

“Take your guns, your knives and your pangas and throw them into the sea,” said Mandela in a passionate speech.

“End this war now.”

Contrast this with Ramaphosa, who talked about calm and not allowing anarchy and mayhem days after it had happened. It wiped out a large part of the economy along with scores of lives.

Sure, it was a difficult, defined, political struggle back in 1990, but Mandela’s intervention – when he wasn’t even in government – was direct, inspired and effective. That is what we needed this week.

That was Mandela approach to his five years in power. He was no saint, but his approach to government was the people first – himself second. There were no frills in the Mandela years.

The first time I saw him in the flesh in Harare, in 1994, just weeks into his presidency, he was ambling through an agricultural show on his own. I think he may have given his few security guys the slip. He nodded and smiled. I was so shocked to see a legend walking alone, I didn’t know what to say – so said nothing. It set the tone for a warm relationship as I covered his presidential visits across Africa.

I am sure Mandela would have been appalled and the greed and violent desperation on the streets of South Africa this week that struck at the very core of the hopeful, free, rainbow nation that he helped to usher in.

Mandela’s greatest strength – and maybe you could say weakness – was that he believed there was good in everyone.

The last shabby decade of politics in South Africa – with its culture of backhanders, bribery and Babylon – would have shocked Mandela to the marrow. He always longed for a better world where enemies could reconcile and wounds heal where public servants were just that.

I am sure the brutality and cowardly violence of the last week would have been enough of a shock to resurrect the old man. It is a pity this was not so.