The Cape Argus recently carried a cartoon – titled ‘Global Death Watch – depicting the faces of elderly leaders’ faces in clocks, each one ticking, and a bubble that represents the world – us – looking on while the long arm ticks closer to the hour. I believe it was an ill advised and regrettably tasteless depiction of what was yet another bleak weekend in South Africa, following news that Madiba had been hospitalised.
The cartoon included, among others, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Syria’s Bashar Assad and Fidel Castro from Cuba. What is clear from this selection of leaders is that they are elderly, and some are considered dictators.
Two issues emerged from seeing the cartoon: the first relates to the media’s ongoing fixation with ‘when Mandela dies’, and the other is the celebrity status that of our former President has been elevated to.
Why the cartoon was in ill taste
The anticipation of the death of a sickly family member is an extremely stressful and emotional time for any family. And anyone who has tended to an elderly person understands how the toll of hospital check-ups, continuous intake of – and dependency – on medicine, mood swings, and the emotional hardships of generally being unable to deal with an uncooperative body affect the entire family.
It cannot be different for the Mandela family.
The time has come for us to leave Tata in peace, and to leave his family, friends, loved ones to deal with their emotions. We need to be more supportive, as many South Africans and citizens of the world already have demonstrated.
The media is at the heart of this. While we have relied on it for updates on Tata’s health, the staking out at hospital for pictures of visitors can be understood, but the disregard for feelings and arrogance to think that Madiba’s life should be played out in front of the media is ill thought of and inconsiderate.
Our need to know about Madiba should not over-ride his family’s need for privacy and we should be aware of this wish and respect it.
The media’s sense of entitlement
Chris Moerdyk said in an article Logical logistics needed for managing Mandela media mayhem on Bizcommunity, “the calls by the government and the ANC for the media to respect the ageing statesman’s privacy is about the silliest form of media management available to them right now. With not too many exceptions, the media will not respect his privacy”.
My immediate response to this column, which continues along the lines that the media will report on Madiba the way that it wants to, encapsulates my argument that arrogance and a sense of entitlement is rampant within the media.
In African culture, when a family is undergoing a stressful time, as the Mandela family is experiencing at the moment, a solemn air takes place over the home. Not just the immediate family’s home, but among everyone who knows the family and who is related to them, either through blood relation or through ancestral connections.
In fact, during this time, friends go out of their way to think about how they can be of assistance to the family through visits and offering prayer. I am saying this because the issue of respect, and the issue of understanding that Mandela belongs to nobody else but his family and the Madiba clan.
The media and the rest of us love him, but has he not done enough for us to also grant him respect?
It is also in very ill taste to pre-empt someone’s death. To many of us, Tata is a figure that we would like to imagine we know intimately. But we don’t. He has been a public figure who was robbed of a life and who is facing the ultimate battle of his life. Death is not a joke, and it is not ‘funny’ to imagine that we can be so callous about his health because ‘he’s ours’.
The depiction of Mandela in that clock, with the time clicking, is ill thought of and very cruel. Here is a man who always advocated for the rights of others and who has sacrificed his youth for a fight that put him away from his family and all we can do is ‘wait’ for his final hour.