It could also be said that our own Thom(as) is no More, any more than his Des(iderius) – that’s me – is Erasmus. (Private joke.) But Madiba’s send-off in Soweto stadium yesterday ended with a rousing eulogy by Barack Obama for a unique hero of humanity, “the likes of whom we will never see again”. (The French translator apparently did not hear or more likely understand the word “likes”, which he translated as “light”; the mistake is still correct. The same translator translated the story of Nelson inviting his jailer to his “inauguration” as an invitation to his “table”, and “grief” as “grief”, a French “false friend” which means … “complaint” ! One would think … but I’ll save my ridicule for religion.)
South Africa is a very religious country. Maybe not as bad as the States but pretty far gone anyhow. Inevitably the show began with a cluster of clergymen doing their thing, in words supposedly addressed to Yahweh, Allah and Jesus’ Dad, in a word, to a non-existent divine NoBody, but in fact addressed to the 40,000 in the half-filled stadium (it rained non-stop) and the billions watching around the world. Each “prayer” was in fact a hypocritical pretence that God was patiently listening to what were really speeches by the less than charismatic preachers who hoped to impress the world with their eloquence (remarkably absent, so different from that of Obama’s oration) and with the nobility of predictable sentiments intended but lamentably unlikely to move anyone. Once again, one would think …
A French commentator expressed his (pretended) surprise at this pious prelude to the genuine, touching testimonies of Mandela’s family and the conventional eulogies of a few celebrities, by remarking ironically that Nelson Mandela never spoke of his “faith” or practised any religion. (“You can count on the French for such cynical, irreligious remarks”, some francophobic anglosaxon believers are sure to say.) This Australian francophile will add only that Mandela was himself mercifully spared the embarrassment of listening to the religious claptrap. But if he could have heard it, he would have displayed his typical serenity and exemplary tolerance which, coupled with his incredible courage, integrity and leadership made him an international icon, a model not only for the world’s leaders but for mankind. Here was a Man.