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A year without Mandela – the healing of a broken home

It is a year today since South Africa and the world lost the presence of a giant moral and political figure. We often don’t speak ill of the dead. But when his legacy’s halo begins to show cracks, how are those who are expected to celebrate it, regard it?



In Xhosa culture, the head of a family is usually mourned for a period of a year. During this period, his immediate family and dependants symbolise this period of ukuzila by the wearing of black clothes (the wife) and black buttons (dependants and the rest of the family). According to this culture, today marks the day that we, his children end our period of mourning for Nelson Mandela.

So the father, a patriarch and moral leader, had the biggest funeral ever seen in the village and many people spoke so well of him. Songs were sung, poetry and books were written about him, movies were made and statues were erected. But as the children grew into their late teens and early twenties, they realised that father was not such as cool a dad as all the neighbours said he was.

South Africa's early problems, according to social commentator, Zapiro

South Africa’s early problems, according to social commentator, Zapiro

Daddy didn’t treat all the kids the same way. Some of the kids were naughty while father was away and took the other kids’ toys. When father returned, he let them keep the toys and told those without ‘It’s okay, I’ll get you your own soon’.

Many years later, the kids are still not being treated equally and cracks begin to show. The kids turn on each other and sporadic fights ensue. The disadvantaged offspring want their toys back but the kids who now own the toys feel the toys are theirs but they can ‘lend’ them out to the others – at a price. While some of the children accede to these conditions (it’s deeply ingrained in them to do so), some realise that father is getting old and is not interested in distributing things in a just manner; they decide to stand up and the teenager shows signs of rebellion.

Floyd Shivambu, chief whip of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters has written a thesis on ' South Africa's negotiated transition from apartheid to an inclusive political system: What capitalist interests reigned supreme?'. Photo:

Floyd Shivambu, chief whip of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters has written a thesis on ‘ South Africa’s negotiated transition from apartheid to an inclusive political system: What capitalist interests reigned supreme?’. Photo:

They adopt two more fathers. The latest one also promises to get the teenagers their own stuff and look after them better than before. He’s a cheerful parent, giving the children many hugs and telling them jokes. Even the meaning of his name has got something to do with laughter. He woos the children, throws many parties in the back yard and invites all the neighbours. He’s a popular new dad, more popular than the one before.

But even he seems to have an agenda. Some of the guests who come to the parties never really leave. Some of them take up space in the house and leave the bathroom dirty.

South Africa's current 'Father of the nation'. Photo:

South Africa’s current ‘Father of the nation’. Photo:

As money becomes tighter and tighter in the household, the children see that the father is also misusing some of the money. But, for some reason, the new father sticks around – even with all his transgressions which go against the everything the family stands for. The children end up not liking him much but accept him and their numerous stepmothers without much noise. The children are desperate for a father.

A year after the death of the ‘real’ father, the children are still asking many questions as they go about the business of trying to establish an identity for themselves. Stuck between mourning him and lamenting some of his regrettable decisions, the offspring reach adulthood and realise that they have to make their own decisions.

Of course, the anger of certain realisations causes some of the children to lash out at the memory of the father. It’s okay. It’s growing pains. As long as the offspring realise that, like most parents, the father did the best he could under the circumstances.

The offspring should grow to chart their own paths and learn to choose the right father figures, based on ability – not sentimentality.