Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Forgiveness, Mandela & Future Conduct

I wonder whether there is a global competition underway amongst world leaders, to wear the most uncomfortable hair shirt, in repentance for Nelson Mandela's lost years? Yes, he is iconic, a giant of the 20th century, a legend, but can anything we say or do now make the slightest difference to him?

He is on Another Shore. I am certain he is far too busy having the most fabulous "knees-up" in a Grand Reunion with friends and family who have gone before him, to care about the solemn speeches and the fulsome tributes raining down upon him. In this life, he was allowed 23 years of freedom following the 27 years in prison. Those 23 years of freedom came to him after he turned 70-something. Imprisoned in his prime, for what was, in effect, a charge of being "racist against white men" and having the cheek to ask for the right to vote, I believe, that it is so very convenient for all of us that he forgave those who injured him. The consequence of his forgiveness now allows room for a repeat of what happened; after all, if Mandela could forgive, we can all learn from him, and forgive, should we similarly suffer. It is also useful for us to be able to inflict suffering on others and then say to them, "Look at Mandela; he could forgive. You should forgive too."

We ought to remind ourselves that people today are still being wronged, deprived of their freedom, treated brutally, subject to a "disciplining" by so-called "authorities". The universal knowledge of the Holocaust did not stop Nelson Mandela from facing 27 years in prison. I very much doubt that after today, we will become better people; indeed, raising monuments, verbal and concrete, in Mandela's honour, may actually liberate us to once more commit the same evil offences.

I recall the irony of a particular UK academic institution where I worked, in proud possession of a student union building named after Nelson Mandela, displaying the identical conduct towards ethnic minority staff that Nelson Mandela suffered; i.e. administrating cruel punishment for the cheek of suggesting some sort of representation for overseas (n.b full fee-paying) students. Couched in language and monuments that attempt to hide the ugliness of intransigent human nature, sometimes it would appear that the tributes "doth protest too much".

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