The regular readers of my column have become accustomed to subject matter ranging from Table Mountain and Flowers to Big Game and Safaris. I deviate this week because like most South Africans I am preoccupied with the death of Nelson Mandela. I feel a great sadness at his passing and I ask myself why. I never met the man personally and he has been absent from politics for almost a decade, so why should his death affect me so?
The name and idea of “Nelson Mandela” has been a presence in my life since my earliest childhood memories. I was raised on the mythology of the great freedom fighter incarcerated on Robben Island. Throughout my childhood and youth he was perceived as the man who represented reason and hope. And although neither he nor the ANC finally brought apartheid to an end, I believe that it was his conviction and visionary leadership that created the firm foundation for a unified multi-racial, multi-cultural society in South Africa. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the greatest statesman of the 20th century and that his influence on our perceptions of the potential for society will reverberate for a long time to come. So his passing represents the end of an era and the loss of a man with an unwavering moral compass. No wonder I feel sad. Hamba Kahle Tata.
When Madiba was born, the total population of South Africa was 6.7 million people. By the end of his life our population had increased to an estimated 53 million people. That is incredible! In a single lifetime our population increased by 46 million people (6.5 times more people than there were when he was born)!!! The South Africa that Madiba was born into was a very different place from where his life ended. The pressure placed upon the environment is infinitely greater now and resources are stretched to a point that was unimaginable when he was a boy.
What we need now is an individual of Madiba’s stature, integrity and vision who can lead an environmental revolution on the scale of Mandela’s social transformation.