Mandela: An “Icon” becomes ordinary at the hand of an ambulance.


–          Mandela became an ordinary ‘black’ albeit for a fleeting period of 40minutes –


I read with a sense of mixed emotions of how former President Mandela or as we affectionately refer to him Madiba in his clan name was left on the road due to the fact his military ambulance suffered engine failure. We are in graphic sense informed how he possibly could have died as a direct result of this unfortunate incident. 


The ambulance we are told suffered mechanical failure and another had to come. On the cuff, this is perhaps an ordinary thing for a vehicle to pack up anytime regardless of being serviced or not. Yet the possibility of engine failure when a former president or icon like Mandela is involved is unacceptable and completely abnormal. 


We read of how frantic Mrs Graca Machel became, rightfully for this is her husband her loved one and she no different to all of us never dream of this to visit on our families. 


You cannot but see that sensationalism crowns this unfortunate incident when we are treated to the diverse threats and potential fatal danger this occasion represented. Yet we dare not make light of the fact that someone is accountable for this occurrence. The servicing of military health transportation is someone’s key performance area. Someone who receives a monthly salary, answerable to senior managers to perform his/her duties in accordance with an agreed employment contract.


We are told how Madiba could have should have and ought to have died, when he did not. That aside, I want to ask did this incident not for a fleeting second render the  ‘Icon’ perhaps an ordinary “black” man? Did this moment not for a split second expose a wealthy man to the plight of the poor, the extraordinary to the mundane.


I firstly think it very unfortunate that something like this occurred to a person let alone an elderly person. At a time when most refuse to see Mandela as ordinary human being as this incident proves. Mandela who for some for less objective reasons remains the glue that keeps us together as South Africans. 


I am tempted to ask was this moment as recorded on June 8, 2013 not a moment of confirmation that Mandela is an ordinary person who like many fall prey to delayed or broken down ambulances services. We must collective express our disdain as to why the military ambulances are not in working condition, which remains a legitimate question. Yet this question does derive legitimacy from the status and iconic position of former president, a saint for some and a struggle hero for others, but mirrored in the reality of its daily occurrence in the lives of ordinary people.  


Too many loved ones in South Africa witnesses their family members, children and loved ones die, because an ambulance never arrived on time or was delayed even suffered mechanical failure. We will admit the presence of an ambulance in itself does not guarantee life. The right to access and obligation on the part of those entrusted with such responsibility is what is at stake for the ordinary citizen. A right often left naked when people are left to die when they deserved due medical care.


This unfortunate incident will become live ammunition to those who believe SA is spiralling into an abyss of anarchy. In which nothing functions and all that we have known is left in tatters. It is not my job to defend the wrong of an ANC led administration, thus I rather want to ask does this incident help us appreciate the value of citizens life immanent in the lack of basic amenities and services, as basic as an ambulance when it is needed most. 


Yet perhaps this equalizes Mandela to all other poor South Africans who are exposed to this form of ambulance trouble. On June the 8th the cold of the night chill was felt equally by thousands outside the warm embrace of heat of a home and a former president whom the world regard an Icon. The cold of the night was felt by one who symbolizes the epitome of struggle heroism. The same unfortunate ambulance incident I would never wish upon Mandela, yet I equally would not wish this on Mrs. Petersen of Tafelsig or Mr. Dlele in Cofimvaba, or Aunty Siena of Pofadder, Mr. Pretorius of Koekenaap. For in the many townships across SA, waiting on an ambulance often become the deciding factor between life and death. 


The state of Mrs Machel must never be downplayed, yet Mrs. Machel is not the only woman who was exposed to the reality of this unfortunate incident. Perhaps in the chill of that night the pomp and celebratory status evaporated and made way for the ordinary plight of thousands in South Africa equally exposed to a cold chilly night on a road in a dysfunctional ambulance. 


Before you rush to conclude my insensitivity to the plight of a former president, his concerned wife, first understand that I bemoan the agony of a 95 year old, a grandfather, a man deemed “black” and an ordinary soul. That is where I deliberately choose to focus my contention. One must strip Mandela from the extraordinary (the status, the supernatural iconic) and invoke the ordinary because that is where the ordinary citizen can interact with him and all those who share power. Perhaps if more of our ministers are exposed to the plight of the ordinary, they will have a better sense of urgency in serving those who mandated them.


This unfortunate incident that may had had gave ramifications ensembles the story of many others in Mzansi of many similar colour shade who die only because an ambulance was too late, delayed, broke down and or  was never dispatched.


I deliberately refuse to be imprisoned by the myopic and iconic status or the Mandela status in the ambulance that is a misplaced focus. I insist on seeing an ordinary man done and injustice that in one night became equal to thousands more of the same fate. These bereft of his access, opulence, opportunity, luxury, privilege and standing. The same no journalist will ever write and inform u about simply because their lives do not matter. 


Perhaps the 40minutes on the roadside reduced the “icon” to an ordinary in most cases “black” person confronted by ambulance problems that so easily could have ended his life. Could this unfortunate incident communicate a message in symbolism of the critical challenges we as a nation remain confronted with in a democracy we often celebrate if not worship for the wrong reasons. 


In fact, did this moment reduce Mandela again to the no status he had before some for their own political expediency define him in a prism of Icon? Did this moment bring Mandela again back in the sphere for the ordinary amongst us in the trenches fighting to survive the challenges of this hour? Mandela the ordinary who during his presidency was willing to appear in a court when the late Louis Luyt former supremo of SA Rugby demanded he answers a case.  


Did this moment sober us all to the many challenges we are confronted within SA? Challenges less understood in opposition politics but lived experiences by the masses that deserve much more.


Perhaps Mandela became ordinary in identifying fully with the agony and plight of many others. Is this not the true legacy of Mandela? Thanks Madiba for in your state of frailty, recurring sickness an old age you once more identified with the true poor, the true needy those who cannot speak for themselves and remain often failed in basic service delivery.

Perhaps as unfortunate as this incident reflects it may be necessary to remind us of the plight of the ordinary.


C.N.S Ramalaine 

Independent Commentator 


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