Mourning Madiba: Antidotes to Media Overload

Sculpture at Mandela Capture Site in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa - site where then-fugitive Mandela was arrested by apartheid police in 1962

Mandela Capture Site in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, where then-fugitive Mandela was arrested by apartheid police in 1962

This isn’t a list of Top 10 Antidotes to Mourning Madiba Media Overload, but just a few tips to help you cope during this remarkable period of history. Because it’s only going to get more intense during this week of memorials, culminating with the funeral of Nelson Mandela at his rural home on Sunday.

The thing is that when an ailing 95-year-old world icon dies no one is taken by surprise. Media factories have been packaging Mandela obituaries and tributes for years. So now they are hauling them out of the deep freeze and into the microwave before putting them on air, online and in print – and this is being done on an incredibly large scale by every media outlet around the world.

One response is to act your age and warn everyone to stay safe during this sensitive time. Like the day when Madiba was released from prison nearly 24 years ago, there will be big crowds and emotions will run high. Plus it’s raining at the big memorial service and in large parts of the country, and it’s forecast to rain through the weekend. Imagine the road to the rural burial place in tiny Qunu. Maybe it would be best to stay home and watch it all on TV and online.

Or maybe not. After all, how many more experiences-of-a-lifetime are you going to have? Why not get out there and feel the vibe? Watch the coverage, from the memorials to the funeral, on the big screens at the public viewing places. In a big crowd. For South Africans it will be like the soccer world cup all over again (only with no games and no Madiba in a team cap and shirt). And if you get tired of the speeches there’ll be lots of time to play spot-the-world-leader and spot-the-celeb.

First glimpse of Mandela's widow as Graca Machel arrives at Soweto memorial service

First glimpse of Mandela’s widow since his passing, as Graca Machel arrives at Soweto memorial service

For people everywhere else it will be one of those we-are-the-world moments. You can feel part of it just by signing a condolence book. You will be part of history.

As I watched the dignitaries arrive by helicopter and limousine at the Soweto stadium, reportedly the biggest memorial service in world history, I wondered if ordinary people will come on foot from all over the Transkei countryside to Madiba’s burial on Sunday.

The government opened the proverbial worm can with the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation’s response to questions as to whether the Dalai Lama would be granted entry if he tried to pay his last respects to his good friend Madiba (given that when Archbishop Desmond Tutu invited him to his birthday party two years ago he was denied a visa). Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane invoked African tradition and declared that “we don’t issue invitations for funerals”. Meaning that anyone is allowed to attend, that no one can be turned away for lack of an invitation.

What if people try to test the government’s respect for this time-honoured African custom? What if residents of the neighbouring villages rock up in great numbers? How will this play out at the queue for food? (Because every African funeral, from the lowliest to the most grand, must offer meals to all mourners.) Whoever arrives, the whole world will be watching, many of whose top representatives will have a good view from inside the marquee.

Enough what-iffing. Perhaps the best tip is to relax and stop thinking about what might go wrong. Concentrate instead on the reasons Madiba is being mourned throughout the world: his greatness, his humanity – and his humour.

Do yourself a favour and watch Madiba and Tutu sing Forever Young on the online ZA News puppet show. Based on the caricatures drawn by South Africa’s top political cartoonist, Zapiro, this minute-long video clip was produced in mid-2011. It is all the more poignant now to hear Tutu ask Tata (Xhosa for father) Madiba, “Do you want to live forever, Tata?”


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