Tag Archives: MAndela

On Thatcher, Mandela and death

Thatcher Mandela
A few days ago a friend of mine emailed me to ask what I thought of Peter Tatchell’s article, “Mandela: Heroic but failed on HIV, poverty & Mugabe” considering that I had been so vocal in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death (See Celebrating Thatcher’s death is wrong both pragmatically and in principle and Thatcher is dead, but Thatcherism is alive: If only it could be the other way round).

On the face of it, following my own logic I should have been upset with Peter’s article. I should have been saying, just as I did for Thatcher, let’s give it a rest, let people mourn and leave the politics out of it…for now at least.

But I wasn’t and nor did I feel I should be.

It has taken me a few days to think this over. In short I think it comes down to a degree of respect for those mourning the death of a loved one. Peter could have waited to write that article, but in the grand scheme of things I am not worried that he did not.

Why? Because very few, if any, of those who cared for and loved Mandela would be troubled by Peter’s article. Throughout he maintained a measured respectful tone that didn’t lose sight of the fact a person had just died and that people were in mourning.

This is markedly different to the witch is dead celebrations that followed Thatcher’s death.

There is a freedom of speech issue here that I will passionately defend. If the state tried to stop people voicing opinion after a death then I would be the first to criticise that. But just because we have the right to do something, this doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

I would be more than happy to condemn the blithering idiots at the Westboro Baptist Church for producing a video and social media campaign claiming Mandela is going to hell. But do I think the state should stop them from doing this? No.

Do I hope (a big hope I know) that someone who was part of this campaign might read this and reconsider? Yes. Do I personally think they were misplaced, inconsiderate and disrespectful to publish such rubbish straight after Mandela’s death? Of course, it goes without saying!

So in short, Peter and anyone else should be free to write and criticise Mandela, but I would personally lay down two principles before I would put pen to paper criticising anyone soon after their death:

  • Either be measured, respectful and conscious of those in grieving (like I feel Peter was in his article) or
  • Just wait a little while and allow people to mourn before turning to the politics of someone’s life.

Judging by the response I got from the Thatcher articles I don’t expect many people to agree with this but hey, that’s OK. I would just ask those who don’t to imagine it was their own loved one that had just died and ask them to think how they would like others to behave during such time.

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Ageing Mandela reminds us of importance of palliative care in Africa

This article was originally published in The South African.

Whilst wishing Mandela a full recovery we can, and indeed must, use this opportunity to talk about the importance of palliative care – a taboo across much of the world including most of Africa.

Left: A 1961 photo of Nelson Mandela (AP); Centre: Mr Mandela and his then-wife on his release from prison in 1990 (AFP); Right: Mr Mandela pictured in 2007 (AP)

In 1999 Nelson Mandela famously said, “A society that does not value its older people denies its roots and endangers its future. Let us strive to enhance their capacity to support themselves for as long as possible and, when they cannot do so anymore, to care for them.”

Ever self-effacing, Mandela would have said these words to offer support to other South Africans and indeed other Africans who needed this care. Now however, approaching his 95th birthday, it is clear that Mandela needs this support for himself.

People from across the world have come together to wish Mandela a recovery from his latest lung infection – a legacy of the tuberculosis he suffered from when he was imprisoned on Robben Island. Prayers have been said and fingers have been crossed as anxious individuals wait for next bulletin of news to come from Pretoria’s Mediclinic Heart Hospital.

As difficult as it is to say, it would appear that Nelson Mandela is moving closer to the inevitability of death that faces us all at some point.

Writing in the Independent, Jeremy Lawrence comments on Mandela’s ill health saying, “The dilemma his doctors face – when to stop “striving officiously” as the Hippocratic oath has it, and switch focus from curing to caring – is all too familiar to palliative care specialists. Recognising that the end is approaching and broaching the subject with the patient and their family demands strength and delicacy – and is often avoided.”

Whilst wishing Mandela a full recovery we can, and indeed must, use this opportunity to talk about the importance of palliative care – a taboo across much of the world including most of Africa.

Mandela’s support and care that he is receiving at Pretoria Mediclinic Heart Hospital sets him out as unusual. The vast majority of African’s do not have access to basic palliative care provision. The African Palliative Care Association summarizes the scale of the challenges when they say:

“A survey of hospice and palliative care services on the continent found that 45 per cent of African countries had no identified hospice or palliative care activity, and only nine per cent could be classified as having services approaching some measure of integration with mainstream health provision.”

The WHO estimates that about 1% of the Africa’s population requires palliative care – this is approximately 9.67 million people across the continent – approximately half a million of whom live in South Africa.

Death is never an easy thing to contemplate. This is especially true when we are talking about someone we love and above all an anti-apartheid hero such as Nelson Mandela. When the inevitable comes closer however, it is not only the patient who can benefit from effective palliative care, but also the family, friends, and loved ones.

In the case of Mandela, it is not just his friends, family and loved ones who suffer the pain of uncertainty but his nation, his continent and, it is not over-stating it to say, most of the world. As Mandela faces the challenges of illness and hospitalisation, the support he receives will not only ease his pain, but also the pain that others around the world feel.

Mandela is in hospital for the fourth time this year already. We stand united wishing him the quickest and fullest recovery possible. We know that his medical team will look out for any indication of suffering that may be physical, social, spiritual or psychological and deal with it.

It is important that palliative care providers in Africa follow this example, and integrate the needs of the aged and the ageing.

Mandela is a man who has inspired a generation. In his later years, hopefully the quality palliative care that he receives will continue to inspire people from across Africa.

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The African Cup of Nations in Angola and the World Cup in South Africa – there’s no comparison

I have recently read a whole series of sensationalist articles suggesting that due to the unrest and violence that has occurred during the African Cup of Nations (held in Angola), the safety of the football World Cup being held in South Africa should be questioned.  This is idiotic at best.

Angola is about 2,000km away from South Africa.  A similar distance can be found between Spain and Mali, or Greece and Iraq. Angola only gained independence from Portugal in 1975.  From there it slipped into an intense civil between the MPLA and UNITA (1975-2002).  In this time about 500,000 people were killed.  It was one of the ‘conflict theatres’ of the cold-war that lasted the longest.  This war provided one of the few significant links between South Africa and Angola; apartheid South Africa supported (along with the US) the anti-communist UNITA. 

The civil war spawned a terrible humanitarian crisis, internally displacing about a third of Angola’s population (about 4.2 million).  In 2003 the UN estimated that 80% of the population did not have access to basic medical care and 60% did not have access to safe drinking water.  The life expectancy in Angola is less than 40.

Are we completely surprised then, when the world gives a country (or terrorist movement) a media hook like the Cup of Nations that violence should ensue? The Togo football team defied organizers demands to only fly in and took a bus from neighbouring Congo.  The following attack left at least 3 people dead.  Adebayor, the ex-Arsenal Striker was left holding one of his best friends as he passed away in his hands.  This sort of attack, with its high profile football stars, filled the Western Press (see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/africa/article6982463.ece).

There is no doubt, that this Cup of Nations has shown some outstanding football, but this has been over-shadowed by the politics and violence that surrounds it.  Commentators have suggested that this has set a precedent for coming competitions, including the South Africa World Cup in the summer.

This is ridiculous!  Firstly, it suggests that this is a new idea (to attack a large sporting event to gain publicity – remember the Israeli athletes at 1972 Olympics?).  In this sense South Africa is no more under threat than it was before the latest violence in Angola.  I strongly suspect, this is another example of the media exploiting Europeans ignorance of geography and politics to paint these two “southern African” nations to be similar.  They have both been through turbulent recent histories, but to suggest that they share much more than this is wrong.

South Africa became an independent republic in 1961, and the government decided to continue to legislate based on apartheid until the early 90’s.  Since then, the country’s politics have been dominated by the ANC, fist with the figurehead of Mandela, then Mbeki and now Zuma.  There is still a high rate of crime across South Africa, especially for murder and rape.  One in three women questioned in a recent survey said that they had been raped in the past year (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/258446.stm).  There are clearly problems facing South Africa, especially in relation to the security issues in the run up to the World Cup; but do you:

A) Think that FIFA have not discussed this with them and are satisfied with their plans and

B) This has any connection to the violence in Angola?

What does this mean for the average footy fan?  It means you should be vigilant when travelling in South Africa.  Have a read up on the risks before you go, take sensible precautions.  Just like with every world cup, there will be a small surge in crime, especially petty.  Should you be afraid of a violent terrorist attack, I really doubt it – you are much more likely to get your wallet stolen.

This African Cup of Nations and the coming World Cup will hopefully illustrate an awkward juxtaposition between the extravagant wealth of modern football and the relative hardship faced in South Africa (and the extreme hardship faced in Angola).  Let the football be enjoyed, but let’s not forget the politics.

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