Commentary Current affairs

Great leaders shine on, even when idiots take hold

In star spangled lands there’s a fool
Who claims that he isn’t a tool.
Today he steps higher,
(A dark day for Gaia)
With pomp, hate and bombast, to rule.

So, what can we do about Trump? Do we just let him ride out his term, with our teeth gritted and harnesses buckled tightly? Protest wherever and whenever we can? I’m far removed geographically from the epicentre of defiance, but I have resolved to do at least one very important thing at all costs: make certain that my children understand who and what he is and, by stark contrast, what a real leader looks like.

No matter what your political affiliations, leanings, thoughts public or private, one cannot have gone through life without having been touched in some way by Nelson Mandela and his work. Many have waxed lyrical about what he accomplished in his extraordinary life and how he shaped the future of South Africa, far better than I could express. What I am remembering today is his inauguration day – an inauguration of such genuine marvel that its memory is potent today. Today as the better part of the world grieves and wails as a man of vile character stands up and takes on the mantle of Chief.

I was there. I was part of the 1994 election in South Africa, the first democratic election ever held in my homeland. With millions, I queued for hours to make my mark, bonding with strangers, those bringing refreshments to the crowds, those singing and dancing, those crying with disbelief at being welcomed to the booths for the first time. The experience felt simultaneously humbling and exalting and we could only ride the wave as each of us took precious memories and new hope away with us. One woman held my hand and said that for the best part of 60 years she has been illiterate and always just signed her name as an X and that, “Today, for the first time in my life, that X will count for something”. I can never forget that, nor the events of t

he day and the feeling of what it meant to be South African on April 27th 1994. I imagine someone blind from birth, seeing colour for the first time – a new sense suddenly coming into play, as patriotism made itself known to me. Never, ever, had I known what it felt like to be proud of my country, my heritage, my accent, my nation. It was an indescribable feeling which, thankfully, I remember vividly.

Yes, that is nostalgia you smell, but that’s another story. Pride, patriotism, joy, democracy, marvel, awe and respect – it’s quite a barrage to feel in one day. And then, again, on 10th May, 1994 – what a rush it was! I was there. I was THERE! I saw the ceremony behind the bullet-proof screen, watched the dignitaries rise and sit as historic minutes ploughed forward in a surge of unrelenting progress.

At Nelson Mandela’s inauguration 10 May 1994 – I was young and happy. I was patriotic!

My brother took this photo before our choir gathered to sing the new National Anthem. The statue of Hertzog has now been replaced by a magnificent 9m-high bronze of Madiba.

I was part of the mass choir and felt the crippling surge of adrenaline as we rippled a giant flag – the vast symbol of freedom and democratic victory, both freshly unveiled – over our heads, followed by the rumble of the fighter jets spraying the air with the defiant, proud colours of our newly legitimised multicultural nation. I was part of the group who sang, for the fist time in history, the new national anthem – the glorious melange of three languages and outposts. I was there. And I will never forget how it felt, thank God. And I will share it.

My view from beneath our new flag as the massive creation was rippled backwards over the heads of the choir, to wild cheers from above and below.

I will impart it to my kids – all of it. I won’t rest until they understand what it can feel like to be proud of yourself, your nation, and your leader, to feel fierce satisfaction and wonder at what a nation can achieve in the face of vile ignorance and hateful leadership. Only then can they aspire to experiencing that for themselves – by making good choices about the future.

And Trump – well, he’s the foil, isn’t he? He needn’t define the status quo. He will do damage and we must address that – the reparation will be extensive and the suffering has already begun.  But please let him be just a blip on the surface of development and a hideous warning against complacency. And in terms of his definition as a leader? If we must remember him, let it be merely as ‘Trump Shmump’. He’s an aberration and will remain worthy of no more than a limerick in the anthology of democracy. If we do our jobs correctly, our children will see to that.

There will be life after Mandela. On my last day I want to know that those who remain behind will say: ‘The man who lies here has done his duty for his country and his people.”‘¹

¹ Source: