With heavy hearts, the people of South Africa and the world wait, holding vigil, and their gaze on the Pretoria hospital that has housed the ailing President Mandela for three long weeks. Staring, anxious eyes and hearts, people pray, media gather, cameras click, the waiting continues…

The people of South Africa, and the world, want to know how their leader, their icon, their role model – their ‘Tata’ (‘father’ in the Xhosa language) – is.

Inside the hospital, limited family members and close friends create a gently flowing stream of visitors, feeling the enduring pressure of holding onto hope in such hard-to-be-hopeful times. It is a new struggle, one for life of a life so many, millions, so fearful of having to move on.

Since the beginning of June, the 08th to be precise, the return to hospital of the aged, ailing, adored President Mandela has caused a national, and global, eclipsing of all thought. As hard as the South African sun tries to break through the winter skies, flickers of light are hard to see. Millions create an outpouring of messages wishing ‘Madiba’, President Mandela, well, expressing how much they – the citizens of South Africa and the world, need him. The ache is palpable.

A man who has become a father to the world.

A leader who has become an icon of highest standing.

A human being who has become a symbol of the heartbeat of hope. How will we go on without him?

But who is ‘we’? Who, in these most tender of times, has the right, the real right, to say ‘I love you, my father’?

The significance, and the complexity, of this cry was recently highlighted when, in a deeply touching, exclusive interview with CNN’s Robyn Curnow – a journalist who, clearly, is welcomed into the Mandela family with trust and respect – was exposed to the open feelings and frustrations of those who are genuinely the only ones able to refer to President Mandela as ‘father/grandfather’.

The unedited message from the daughter of president Mandela? The people are hurting, the people are sad…but the people are not ‘family’. We, the family, must be given the respect due. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/23/world/africa/makaziwe-mandela-interview/index.html?iref=allsearch

With her words, Makaziwe Mandela brought back to home so much that had gone so out of control. So many lines have been crossed. The line of respect, where in the Xhosa tradition, it is taboo to speak of the passing of an elder. The line of intimacy, where non-family members felt and voiced the right to know more about the intimate details of the wellness, or not, of the ailing former President. The line of conscience.

In many ways, the sense of ‘I have the right’ seen and felt over the past weeks in South Africa reflects the greater, global impact of social media. While social media may be e-based, its impact on the way the world thinks is boundless. As a result, social media can be viewed as a platform, a vehicle, for expression of values, demonstration of principles, window into what is deemed to be rightful to reveal.

Sadly, the omnipresence of social media, and voyeuristic usage of so many social media platforms, has left many – many millions – feeling a right to know/see/tell more. Because they can. Throw the curtain in the window open – I have a right to know.


Does the existence of public e-lines make crossing into the sacred, private space of bloodlines acceptable? Have we, through the creation of FB ‘friends’ lost the real value of genuine three dimensional friends?

Even in these tender and tearful days, President Mandela is teaching us – teaching us the importance of knowing when it is important to stand up, to step forward…but also when one must step back.

Sorrow, sadly, is innately selfish – it is an expression of one’s loss, and the hurt that is felt with same. And that’s ok. Sometimes, sometimes however, that sorrow can cause a crossing of lines. Sometimes we need to recognise that personal ache is creating a feeling of right to have the curtain opened. When actually it should stay closed to us.

Whatever the future may bring, however the hand of God shall work, President Mandela will remain for the world not only a symbol of freedom and possibility, but also an enduring example of dignity, decency, honour, And rightness.

Ndiyabulela, Tata.



Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2013