We’ve been assailed with footage, with memes and obituaries, with quotes and knee jerk sentiment, sometimes crudely borrowed from a twenty first century version of an Athena or No Fear poster. Nelson Mandela died and a stage show to commemorate and mark his life that has been waiting in the wings for some time has been rolled out and put on repeat. Tributes and obituaries are an ongoing multi-layered project that are created in their own image and stand as their own piece of history, of telling and retelling.
This process and experience of telling and retelling in the media and online this week leaves me to ponder the representation of his life and death as this closed over scar. In many ways the wound beneath the scar been so treated, sanitised, stitched, altered and ‘healed’ that it is almost invisible, the scar as a symbol of recovery is more important than the wound. We have to face down the reality of the wound of apartheid in South Africa and the deep divisions of and symbolism of racism in the world. We have to consider the necessity and coherence of political violence (as articulated by Mandela), his long imprisonment and then the political and economic game that was played out over his subsequent release, his short presidential career and his widely heralded and celebrated world changing legacy. Whilst a deeply incredible and provocative story and life, Mandela lived and articulated profound human wounds and damage with significant implications for the dignity of human society
I’m left with three puzzled considerations as I walk the line between taking the life and death of an important and symbolic figure seriously and standing against the backlash and skewed retelling of past events and motives.
I’m writing over at Corrymeela Comments today click to read this piece in full here