I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
Listening to some of the comments on the radio about Nelson Mandela those that interested me most were those from the people he knew him, lived next door to him, met him in ‘real life’. The word that they most often used was ‘Humility’.
It’s not something we expect in political leaders. Looking at his near contemporary, Robert Mugabe, it seems to be a trait entirely missing in his make-up. Indeed it seems to be something that Nelson Mandela’s successors are lacking as well. As for the gilded youths who lead our three political parties, there are times when you suspect they regard the concept as one that should only apply to the little people.
Yet when you look at his life, Nelson Mandela was as gilded a youth as any. A Xhosa born to the Thembu royal family, he went to university and studied law. Before the Second World War, you had to have a pretty affluent background to manage that in this country, never mind in South Africa.
So what was the making of him? How did he overcome the sense of entitlement that creates a Mugabe, an Elliot Morley, a David Chaytor, a Jim Devine, or an Eric Illsley? (Four British MPs jailed for corruption)
I think he gave us the answer himself. “In my country we go to prison first and then become President.” In Robben Island he had time to think, time out of the hurly burly of politics; time to discover what really matters, time to know himself. As he said, “Before I went to jail, I was active in politics as a member of South Africa’s leading organization – and I was generally busy from 7 A.M. until midnight. I never had time to sit and think.”
Jailing more politicians is always appealing, but perhaps they ought to have things a bit tougher, perhaps they ought to live a real life and do a proper job prior to going into politics. Then they might have the humility to say “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”
Oh yes, and I always loved his taste in shirts as well.
Rest in Peace