Hundreds of people, comprised of fans, media and the just plain curious, are gathered outside a building. They are chanting a man’s name, singing for him, holding vigils. The man inside the building is suffering.
The final days of Nelson Mandela were a familiar circus to those of us all too au fait with the mechanics of the parasitic press; with their orgy of audacity and mendacity in their slavering anticipation of the corporeal death of a hero. As the great man’s granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela, put it, “[They] want a pound of flesh. In the absence of facts, [they] speculate.”
Thankfully, not all of the comparisons between Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson are so painful.
People describe the change in atmosphere that occurred if ever either Michael Jackson or Nelson Mandela entered a room; as if they could osmotically transform whichever ether they had graced. Pictures of the meetings between Michael Jackson and Nelson Mandela portray two bona fide heroes in enthusiastic embrace: brothers in arms. Imagine the charge in that room. Perhaps the most telling example of the bond between the two giants, however, is from the quote from President Mandela, “When you’re imprisoned with no view of getting out, you look to find refuge in something. I found mine in Michael Jackson”. It appears, as Michael Jackson refugees, we are in the finest company humanly possible. Michael reciprocated this love during the 2005 trial, with the words, “Mandela’s story is giving me a lot of strength”.
The colossal cultural strides of these men bridged gaps between religious and political differences; they stood as flaming torches amongst humanity: their fuel of humility starkly illuminating the darkness of jealousy: a jealousy manifest in their being globally slandered as miscreants. They were uniquely civilised human beings – evolutionary cusps, perhaps evidencing better than anything else, an eventual spiritual progression for humanity. They invited us to celebrate the ecstasy of diversity; they made manifest Goethe’s poetic claim that, “Colours are light’s suffering and joy”. If they were terrorists, they were terrorists of love.
There was always such irony in the backlash towards Michael Jackson’s change in skin colour. Michael’s surgeries elicited a personal rather than ethnic redefinition, what with him becoming translucent rather than white: a translucence that transcended barriers imposed by racial identity. Michael Jackson did more for race relations than anyone else in history. Well, him along with Mandela.
There is a historical poignancy in these men dying in such close proximity to each other. Signs of their time. The annual commemorations will be desperately and needfully sad; morose celebrations of the life of the humanitarian entertainer stirring an emotive groundswell in preparation for the celebrations later that year of the life of the humanitarian politician – two men that stood steadfast in their perceived-as-idealistic beliefs in peace, in the face of violent adversity. But handcuffed with this grief, must be the realisation that upon these two dates every year, our collective mass of mutual understanding evolves and multiplies exponentially. However, the case of Trayvon Martin this year reminds us that a great deal of work remains to be done; and indeed, in South Africa itself, the antics of Zuma suggest a return to the corruption of yesteryear may be imminent – and what a heartbreakingly egregious waste of thirty years of a great man’s life that would be, should it happen.
The philosophies of Nelson Mandela and Michael Jackson can be our global antidotes to cynicism. They taught us that there is no weapon as abundant or as robust as love, but that the good fight is worth fighting for.
They taught us to all be brothers in arms.