J.M. Coetzee over Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

J.M. Coetzee schreef een kort artikel over het leven en nalatenschap van de op 5 december jl. overleden Nelson Mandela. Het artikel uit de Sydney Morning Herald is inmiddels in verschillende Australische kranten overgenomen. Coetzee heeft zich altijd tegen het apartheidsregime opgesteld, maar is ook kritisch over de Zuid-Afrikaanse regering onder leiding van het ANC. Over Mandela schrijft Coetzee: 'He was a great man; he may well be the last of the great men.'

Nelson Mandela has died after a long life – long yet lamentably truncated in that he spent 27 of the best years of his manhood incarcerated at the pleasure of the state.

Incarcerated, he was hardly powerless. During the final years of that long sentence he in effect exercised a power of veto over the foreign policy of his country, exerting more and more of a stranglehold over his jailers.

With F.W. de Klerk, a man of much smaller moral stature, yet also, in his way, a contributor to the liberation of South Africa, Mandela held a turbulent country together during the dangerous years 1990-94, exercising his great personal charm to persuade whites that they had a place in the new democratic republic while step by step emasculating the separatist white right wing.

By the time he became president in his own right, he was already an old man. His failure to throw himself more energetically into the urgent business of the day – the creation of a just economic order – was understandable if unfortunate. Like the rest of the leadership of the ANC, he was blindsided by the collapse of socialism world-wide; the party had no philosophical resistance to put up against a new, predatory economic rationalism.

Mandela's personal and political authority had its basis in his principled defence of armed resistance to apartheid and in the harsh punishment he suffered for that resistance. It was given further backbone by his aristocratic mien, which was not without a gracious common touch, and his old-fashioned education, which held before him Victorian ideals of personal integrity and devotion to public service.

He managed relations with a wife, whose behaviour became increasingly scandalous, with exemplary forbearance. He was, and by the time of his death was universally held to be, a great man; he may well be the last of the great men, as the concept of greatness retires into the historical shadows.

(c) 2013 Sydney Morning Herald