Africa is very different. Of course, we know this intellectually, but only a visit makes you really feel and understand it. My first impression in 2009 when driving from Libreville Airport in Gabon to my hotel was the number of hawkers along the roadside. And whenever we had to stop, they would approach the car and try to flog us anything from phonecards to antique clocks. Of course, there was nothing I wanted to buy, but you have to feel for these people, spending all day to make a no-doubt pittance from car travellers undoubtedly much better off than they are.
Well, apparently, when the World Cup was held in South Africa, street hawkers were removed from the vicinity of the magnificent new stadia on the basis that this would “congest” the approaches: spinspeak for “offend visiting VIPs”. Most of the street-traders could never afford a ticket to a game, but their hope of earning some dosh from the big occasion were dashed by the establishment.
I was reminded of this ruling elite incomprehension and/or disdain for the ordinary people by yesterday’s Memorial Ceremony for Nelson Mandela. The stadium was half-full apparently (the people knowing what to expect), and those there were subject to FIVE HOURS of speeches from some of the hundred VIPs present.
As it happened, many of the crowd simply sang and danced with their backs turned as the speeches droned on and on. And President Zuma was booed every time he spoke, causing consternation among the organisers.
But who really wants to hear pontificating speeches from VIPs? Mandela was a great and inspiring man, but a simple, unpretentious and unaffected one. That is not what he deserved. And he fought for freedom and democracy, so WHY were there representatives of the Chinese government there? Or Cuba come to that? Those are DICTATORSHIPS: the oppressors of one group by a minority, which is EXACTLY what Mandela fought against.
It was pretty sickening, even without the idiotic “selfies” of Obama and Cameron. But it symbolized for me the gap between rulers and ruled, the former coming to think they have more rights than the latter. I wonder what Mandela thought of Zuma, with his regime of corruption, his vast home which he has apparently enhanced with public funds and is under extreme criticism for? Sadly, oppressed people everywhere have only too often thrown off the colonialist yolk to have it replaced by oppression from their compatriots.
As people from the townships said on interview. “We were dirt poor before the end of apartheid and we still are today, thirty years later. And we don’t expect any change in the foreseeable future.”
Where is the next great leader who will take over and finish the job Mandela started?
One thing did please me from yesterday’s events. Apparently former President Frederik William de Klerk got a big cheer when he was introduced. This week has all been about Mandela, but it is important to remember that though his role was enormous and utterly inspiring – especially in the reconciliation aspect – he did not end apartheid all by himself, as was recognized by the joint award of the Nobel Peace Prize to both him and de Klerk in 1993.
And speaking of the NPP, the sight of Obama doing his usual smooth-talking reminded me of the fatuousness of his own NPP, awarded I suspect simply for being black. Like many things, the NPP has been seriously devalued since the time when Mandela and de Klerk so deservedly won it.