“There comes a stage in their lives when they consider it permissible to be egotistic and to brag to the public about their unique achievements”, wrote former South African President Nelson Mandela in his book Conversations with Myself. Of course here the old man was referring to autobiographers. And just how true or relevant is this to the recent development?
On 11 February 2012 South African President Jacob Zuma released a statement announcing that before the end of the year all South African bank notes would have the face of Mandela. The announcement was of course welcomed by all political parties and even ordinary South Africans. In his announcement, Zuma said Mandela was an “outstanding leader and patriot” among a “group of exceptional men and women in our country who demonstrated their unfailing love for this country and its people, even in the face of repression and possible death”.
As the first democratically elected president at time Mandela led South Africans towards a free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society, said Zuma. “It was a difficult period. It was an era of uncertainly for all South Africans. At the same time it was a period of great expectations. They wanted to see all their problems of centuries disappearing overnight. They wanted to see their political freedom translating to tangible socio-economical freedom without delay”. To do this, said Zuma, South Africa needed a president like Mandela to “lead a bruised nation like ours on a journey of forgiveness and reconciliation, and he acquitted himself exceptionally well, as he has always done, in every aspect of him life”.
And it was because of his exceptional leadership that the government honoured him by having South African bank notes bear his image.
The announcement also marked Mandela’s anniversary since his release from prison in the early 90s, after being arrested for 27 years. “With this humble gesture”, said Zuma, “we are expressing our deep gratitude as the South African people, to a life spent in service of the people of this country and in the cause of humanity worldwide”. Announced on the same day Mandela’s sister, Nokuthanda Mandela was buried – also the afternoon of which musician Whitney Houston lost her life – Zuma said the notes would “make us remember and appreciate our achievements in order to continue the journey towards a more prosperous society”.
Granted, Mandela is an exceptional leader – one I am yet to see in the current African National Congress’ crop of leaders, if not looters – or any other opposition political party for that matter.
Of course I understand that our government only wanted to show gratitude and honour to Mandela, but this is just too much.
And as I said on Facebook: “The next thing they will be changing South Africa to Madiba (mania). I think the notes we have are enough and there definitely is no need for the notes to be rebranded Madiba [Mandela’s clan name]. Yes, he’s admired by all [political parties and the world over] but this is just too much…”
That Mandela is loved by all was therefore no surprise that there was no opposition to the government’s announcement. I mean we have streets, roads, buildings, university, some squatter camps and or residential areas – all named after him. Worse, we now have International Mandela Day celebrated the world over. And it is expected – as did a friend of mine – that many would see my stance of his matter as uncalled for, saying my opposition to this gesture that of an “ungrateful” man.
My friend – who will remain anonymous unless he dictates otherwise – said Mandela was “very well deserving of every little thing that comes his way”. He asked if I was not tired of the animals we have on our notes – some of which [rhinos] are an endangered species.
He said this would not be the first time our notes had the image of a leader. Jan van Riebek apparently had his image all over the bank notes too. My friend asked why I did not complain of Van Riebek’s to which I could not have objected because I was not around at that time. “At the time when our notes had him (Van Riebek) I was not around and therefore cannot speak for those who were”.
Because of views such as mine, said my friend: “I think the notion of public consultation is abused and misinterpreted, bona hela gore jaanong lo bua eng”, adding that “You should have just woken up one [day] and found his [Mandela’s] face on your notes” as it happened during the Van Riebek era.
As I noted on Facebook:
It is not that we are not “ungrateful” as you claim. To what extent and how far (if your argument stands) do we really have to show our gratefulness of Mandela? Wasn’t our renaming of the streets such a sign of ‘gratefullness’ of him? What of the university, the streets, the roads, the Mandela Day? Weren’t these enough?
I bet every town has Mandela Street or Driver. Others even have Mandela house. Worse, there are even places officially or unofficially named after him like Mandela squatters in Mamelodi East and you might as well find similar sections in many parts of the country.
So, will our ‘gratefulness’ of Mandela ever end somewhere, if it ever will, which seems very unlikely given this notes development? My friend believes that our gratitude to Mandela cannot be limited but I disagree because if that is the case and many would want to honour him to infinite then they should probably name their children after him because “that way you can cherish him privately (or even publicly) after he’s no more”.
The other reason why I think imaging Mandela on the bank notes is wrong is that – and this is an issue that I believe has been overlooked here: “It might be that (which is never going to happen anyway) is DA [Democratic Alliance] to become the ruling and leading party in a zillion year – one of its struggle and freedom fights (I wonder who, but there are a few) might have our notes named and branded after him/her. It is a possibility whose precedence now ruling party [ANC] is doing by branding our notes after Mandela”.
Surely we do not want to politicise our money as we’ve done with a lot of things in this country?
Or to twist Mandela’s words do we “consider it permissible to be egotistic and to brag” to the world about him as our “unique” struggle icon?