As an army coup in Egypt ended that country’s brief skirmish with democracy, South Africa awaits the passing of the man who was responsible more than anyone else for a democracy that has lasted twenty years. Yes, it is imperfect and, yes, many new problems have arisen to replace the old, but the country has developed and grown a robust economy. It is peaceful and relatively well-governed in comparison to most of the rest of Africa and much of the rest of the world. Last week I was at a conference in Florida. I was only asked about two issues in South Africa – was Oscar Pistorius guilty of murder and how is Nelson Mandela?
Well, the answer to the latter is that he is critical. Despite on again, off again denials, he is on life support in a Pretoria hospital. Despite prayers and vigils, it seems very unlikely that he will return home. His illness overshadowed the visit of President Obama, who has not made Africa one of his priority areas in any case. The president met with the Mandela family and said the right things, but any thought of a meeting with Madiba himself had to be dropped.
Yet even now, the family is in the midst of squabbles. The tasteless issue around the Mandela Trust that I described in Don't live too long (perhaps I regret the rather prophetic title now) is in abeyance. Even this family couldn’t contemplate suing an old man on his death bed for his money! But a tit for tat has played out in the meanwhile, which would be farcical in any other circumstances.
|Police and herse approach Mandla's complex at Mvezo|
On Friday a court agreed with the majority of the family that the bodies should be returned to their former resting places while newspaper headlines cried: ‘Mandla in Grave Trouble’ and ‘Mandla Faces Prosecution’. Mandla appealed, but yesterday a court dismissed his objection as ‘frivolous’ and called his behavior ‘scandalous’. Rather dramatically police and funeral workers left immediately for the Mvezo site, broke open the gates with a pick ax, exhumed the bodies, and carted them off to a morgue for forensics tests. What those tests might be or why they should be required is unclear. Maybe there is a concern that Mandla might have switched bodies? The whole matter is at least as complex as the plot of DEADLY HARVEST, which has a few grave troubles of its own.
Meanwhile the wait for Mandela’s passing continues. Hopefully, when that happens, he will be allowed at last to rest in peace. And at one place.
PS Happy Independence Day to all American readers!