The denial: Mandela’s looming death

IN PSYCHOLOGY, there is what they call the “bereavement process”. A process that describes the stages people go through after experiencing a type of loss.

Although the bereavement process is unique to all individuals who go through it, it is generally accepted that the first step is denial.

Nelson Mandela has not died but it seems the whole world is in denial. We refuse to accept that he is an old and mortal man. He is likely to die in the near future. We must all die some day.

Perhaps the issue where Mandela is concerned is we believe his death will result in the death of what he represents. To many, he represents freedom, equality, democracy, peace, unity and perhaps even love.

Do we honestly believe that one person’s death will result in the end of all of that? If that is true then I have a few questions:

Why did black consciousness not die with Steve Biko? Why did Martin Luther King Jr’s dream not die along with him?

Ideas, beliefs and virtues do not rest in one man. We live and we learn from the person who leads the movement but we do not allow the loss of his life to result in us forgetting what he stood for.

A few years ago my great-grandmother died at the approximate age of 89 (she did not have a birth certificate so none of us are really sure how old she was). She was old and after experiencing two strokes, she could no longer walk.

When she died my mom said we should not mourn her death but celebrate the life she had had. She fulfilled her purpose and honestly it was painful to watch her deteriorate from a woman of strength and wisdom to the frail person she became.

At her funeral, we jubilantly sang songs celebrating the powerful woman who was now our ancestor. People remembered her chirps, her laughs and her life in general.

Perhaps we need to start viewing Mandela as one of our own family members. I imagine him as my great-grandfather, one of the most powerful men in the world. I imagine the pain of seeing him lie in a hospital bed not once, but more than that within four months.

I imagine the pain that each hospital visit may come with and I feel sorry for my great-grandfather. I question the quality of life he has now and I worry that he is suffering.

I believe that his family will mourn his death, as will the nation and the world. I also believe however that his family — and the nation and the world — would not want him to suffer.

Zapiro had a cartoon about the need for South Africa to let go of Mandela. The cartoon depicts Mandela lying in a hospital bed while South Africa sits by his side holding on to his hand.

When the cartoon was initially published in the print edition of the Sunday Times, the speech bubble of Mandela saying to South Africa “I know it’s hard but we must let go” was left out.

The editors were worried it may be seen as disrespectful. They later published the original cartoon online.

I mean no disrespect. I too believe it is time we accepted that Mandela will die and we will be able to honour his legacy by continuing his commitment to freedom and democracy.

shandu@witsvuvuzela.com

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