By Ibukun Akinnawo
In a bid to hang on desperately to good memories, laughter and love, when people die everyone talks about the good deeds they did—no matter how few, no matter how numerous—and bury the hurt done to them by the dead with the dead like death can wipe slates clean and wash away saintliness. But that never is the case. The hurt remember and try desperately hard to forget the wrong done to them for the sake of the dead.
Perhaps this is the case of the great Mandela, father figure to the world and especially to South Africans, but “introspective, emotionally aloof” man to his sons and daughters. Mandela was married three times in his 95 years: first to Evelyn Mase, with whom he had four children and a 13-year long marriage, then to Winnie Midikizela-Mandela with whom he had two daughters, then finally to Graca Machel from 1997 till he died.
Mandela’s letters to his children while in prison were bereft of endearments and pet names and usually contained information relating to contemporary events. Makaziwe Mandela, his oldest daughter said once, “He’s awkward. To his children he’s awkward; he doesn’t know how to reach out…we were ignored, or at least not acknowledged, while he was preoccupied with politics.”
The father of six and grandfather to seventeen is said to have sacrificed a normal happy family life for South Africa—the greater good according to some. But is it, really?
Is it really the greater good for a man to be worshipped by all except his blood?
It has been said that outside of the UN, there has not been a gathering of world leaders in one place as there was at Mandela’s memorial Tuesday this week. Despite the rain, tens of thousands of people occupied the FNB Stadium where Mandela made his last public appearance, singing local tunes that breathed hope and overwhelming love for South Africa’s first democratic president. Madiba left an indelible mark in the hearts of countless people all over world. He has left a vacuum that will be extremely difficult to fill if not impossible, but he made his mistakes. He wasn’t infallible, he was flesh, blood and very human. One can only speculate and wonder if Mandela would make the same choices if he had another chance at life here on earth. Would he do it all again or would he settle for a quiet life with his family and pray for another saviour to arise in his place? Either way, a conscious choice had to be made: stay-at-home dad or freedom fighter, and either way, “the greater good” in question will always be relative.