The world was caught completely off guard by news of Nelson Mandela's passing. The fact that he was living out his ninth decade may have softened the blow for some, myself included, but my initial reaction scarcely extended beyond the acceptance of what's inevitable, and the hope that humanity would, for once, learn a thing or two from this great man's life.
Within a matter of minutes, though, any hopes I had momentarily and naively harboured were quickly dashed as I, along with almost everyone in the Western world, was treated to a spectacle of amateurish play-acting. The fervent fawning was perhaps a last-gasp attempt to make us forget that Mandela had been, until 2008, labelled a "terrorist" by some of the statesmen now queuing up to heap posthumous praise. What further ground my guts was the media's transforming of a man of solid, radical principles (countless examples of which were compiled by my namesake's latest Huff Puff) into a saintly celebrity of global, era-defining proportions. The blanket coverage was choke-full of gushing tributes that deftly blanked out the slightly crucial detail of what he really spent his entire life opposing. In doing so, major media outlets had produced a series of obituaries with a narrative that would not have pleased Madiba unless he'd undergone a lobotomy on the sly. Admittedly, he was only fighting minor remnants of centuries of colonial arrogance, as Musa Okwonga eloquently put it, so choosing not include this in an obituary is understandable given the restrictions of time/space that journalists must adhere to these days.
Our grim world is full of hypocrites who will try, and fail, to morph the late South African president into a poster boy. He may have become so in the eyes of the historically amnesic; for the rest of us, however, he is lesson upon lesson in humility, perseverance and unequivocal rejection of oppression no matter who this oppression is meted out against.