Focus on Mandela’s legacy

Debate centred around book by Mandla Langa on presidential years

Author Mandla Langa, left, and literature lecturer Barrington Marais at the dialogue last night
Author Mandla Langa, left, and literature lecturer Barrington Marais at the dialogue last night
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Steady, measured and balanced – lauded poet, short story writer and novelist Mandla Langa took centre stage in a contentious debate around the legacy of Nelson Mandela during the latest Herald/Canrad Community Dialogue held last night.

It was hosted at the Nelson Mandela University’s North Campus Conference Centre in association with the university’s Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (Canrad).

The dialogue was founded on Langa’s new non-fiction work entitled Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years – Nelson Mandela and Mandla Langa.

Chaired by Herald deputy editor Nwabisa Makunga, the event, which attracted an audience of about 50 people, most of them students, saw literature lecturer Barrington Marais giving his input as the respondent for the dialogue.

The writer – who counts former Chief Justice Pius Langa and former ambassador to Russia Bheki Langa among his siblings – opened the session by reminding the audience that Mandela had been purposely selected to function as the “face of the struggle” against apartheid.

Nkululo Mtyingizane voices his opinion
Nkululo Mtyingizane voices his opinion
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Revealing the theme of the event as “What is South Africa’s attitude towards its treasures” [meaning its people or groups who have made citizens proud of who they are], Langa went on to cite the various attitudes, commentary and debates which emerged in the wake of Winnie Mandela’s death as an important example.

Intimating that each individual was filled with potential greatness and that some had achieved good things while in the shadow of others, Langa remarked that “we need to find ways of claiming what was ours on our own terms. Some are just catapulted to greatness.

“We should look at what good is in ourselves,” he said.

He said the book had presented a challenge as it was a work of non-fiction and could have opened him to criticism “and lawyers”. He said the book focused solely on Mandela’s presidential years and Mandela’s own writing – some of the around “70 000 words” he had contributed to the book, along with archives and other sources.

Taryn Isaacs de Vega contributes to the dialogue
Taryn Isaacs de Vega contributes to the dialogue
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Having cited a portion of the work to the audience, Langa concluded the reading with wisdoms asserted by Mandela around the impracticalities and ultimate futility of violence.

In the question-and-answer session, criticism was levelled at Mandela’s legacy, claiming that he had failed to address controversial issues such as land and the demands for free education.

Another issue repeatedly raised was around the notion of the “rainbow” nation, with those raising the topic rubbishing its existence.

Two comments brought light relief to the discussion, the first of which was “The rumour that apartheid is dead, is a rumour” and the second, which reflected the demographics and overall tone of the dialogue was: “There are no colonialists here to help us decolonialise”.

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