tribute nadine gorimer

What Mandela means to me.

In all the shame and horrors of apartheid, I was lucky to be alive in the same time and place as Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela knew beyond question that the struggle for freedom from the subjection of blacks under whites which began in South Africa in the 17th century and reached grim culmination as apartheid, could be achieved only by blacks themselves, as both an outward battle and an inward transformation out of victimhood.

He also recognised the indivisibility of human freedom, and the dedication to this which confirmed the necessity and right of whites to serve within the struggle for justice against racism. There were the Greats: Joe Slovo, Helen Joseph, Ruth First, Ronnie Kasrils, Beyers Naude, and more. There were others, like myself, who associated themselves, against risk, with the ANC in the movement towards the ultimate human integrity - freedom from the subjection of humans by humans. There were some tasks I could do for Mandela and his fellow Freedom Fighters as an African whose skin colour was not a definition in his eyes. They were never enough, seen by me in hindsight; but maybe without him as leader in the inescapable existential responsibilities of our country, I would not have been able to realise, in the same way, my own share of such responsibility.

I suppose one must fall back on the cliché, inspiration. Nelson Mandela, underground, in prison and in his Presidency, was and is that for South Africans of all colours.

Nelson - Madiba - responded with his life, unsparingly, in what Edward Said calls "a kind of historical necessity". And Fanon speaks of the quality of "spontaneity". Mandela has never been afraid of speaking out at once in response to what he was and is confronted with as wrong; even since he has been in something euphemistically called his retirement from the Presidency, he thrusts away the veil of "political correctness" - defiance of which is thought to imply disloyalty to one's country - and decries the inadequacy of the government's response to the epidemic of HIV/Aids that is decimating our population.

A great leader - moral leader as Madiba has become to the world - is seen rightly and in awe as one who has put the lives of others, his people first, before any life of his own. With all this involves: such a man belongs with his people in sharing an emotional, private dimension as well. Mandela has done this uncompromisingly. Personal sorrow had to be endured by him, alone, as with any one of us in our private lives. Mandela is a whole man, who experiences keenly all in the state of being human. It is part of his strength as a leader beyond comparison in the world we live in and know.

To think of him, not only in homage, but lovingly on a light note, not forgetting his wit, indestructible sense of humour: on his marriage to Graça Machel, which those of us who are among his friends are grateful to see has brought him his calm late happiness, he was asked by a journalist whether he didn't object to her announced decision to keep that name. Mock relief: "Oh, I'm so glad she didn't ask me to change my name to hers!" A sly bow to the feminists? To yet another aspect of human justice?
(2007)