Words of Barbara Klugman:
Paul (my son) phoned and woke me last night with the news. My immediate response was relief; like a weight off my shoulders, because these last months have been so tough for him and the people around him, and many of us had hoped the time would come soon.
This morning I and those around me feel bereft. “I have lost my father” said Thembi who cleans my house every friday. People are phoning into the radio with all sorts of stories, familiar and unfamiliar, with lots of warmth and humour inflecting the sadness. Funniest story was about a trade union that was not making any headway in negotiations so Madiba went to see them, greeted each person, asked about each of their families and then invited them to walk with him, straight into a bevy of media where he announced that the strike was over – despite not having discussed anything with the union members about the strike!!! The unionist told the story with so much warmth, capturing the way that Madiba could be utterly authoritative yet his way of being made people fall in line as it were. Also lots of stories about him going out of his way to greet and recognise people on the streets and around him, really understanding the power of communication. I remember not that long after he came out a book I’d contributed towards – Going Green – was launched and he came to speak, and as usual, incredibly obligingly greeted one person after another, including my sister-in-law Yvonne. She was beside herself – said she’d never wash the hand he’d shaken! It’s a good moment to reflect on the meaning of leadership. I find myself really upset when people talk about the struggle as if it was made by Madiba or talk about Madiba as if he was the reason for our freedom, because neither are true. He was a product of an organisation even while he influenced and shaped the organisation; and our freedom was won as the result of a myriad of strategies by all sorts of people and organisations, including the ANC and groups linked to it, but also including many others. And many people lost their lives; many families lost their loved ones. And, sometimes I think even worse, are the thousands of people and their families who suffered so horribly that they still have no emotional stability or compass that allows them to enjoy our democracy. All of them helped to create the possibility of freedom. Yet of course it is also true that individuals too shape history, and our own story so exemplifies that – if one compares Madiba to the presidents who have followed him, his ethical behaviour, his commitment to inclusivity, his effort to make this a country for everyone rather than just for the new elite. By the mid-90s the whole country bar a handful of right-wingers, was ready for peace, and was willing to do what it took to make peace. The extent to which the corporate sector and white South Africans – across all of their divides – were willing to let go of power and resources, was utterly remarkable. They bought absolutely into the vision. Mandela took that and worked with it and it was that that was extraordinary, as was the way he modelled to everyone who had suffered so unbearably that inclusivity was the only way forward. It is that legacy that subsequent leadership squandered, reverting precisely to the model of the apartheid era in which those with power aimed to accrue further power only to themselves and their families and friends. It’s a staggering loss. When Paul phoned me I said to him that this marked the end of an era. For me it is not really the loss of Madiba, since his time had come, but what he represents as the leader of the movement that embarked on implementing a dream of inclusivity with reparation; balancing the need for fundamental redistribution with the need for recognising everyone as fully human; mobilising everyone around a shared vision; and putting in place ways for anyone who wanted to, to participate in that process; a dream that has been cut down when still a vulnerable seedling, unable to flower.
That is my sadness. Maybe people will use his death to talk about that loss.
However I don’t want to end my reflection on such a low note. At least our constitutional framework is, for now, holding up against repeated efforts to undercut our freedoms; and our economy is, for now, managing to bear the huge burden of redistributing, at least to some extent, from the few who can pay taxes towards the majority who do not. And our country is still also filled with many of the people who helped shape those changes, and with their children, and while some are happily riding the gravy train, many many are shaping new directions with the extraordinary innovation and commitment that has characterised our struggle. Listening to and learning from new generations making their own sense of our current reality and shaping their own responses is a humble reminder that change is never achieved overnight; and it is still hugely nourishing to be able to play a small role here and there in that process….
With love to you all,