“It has come to my attention,” Oudoom says gravely as he leans on the lectern, “that there are many opinions regarding the life and times of the late President, Mandela.”
This, of course, is true. Fanny, who grew up in England, remembers the protests against the Nationalists. There was no doubt, back then, that the ANC was fighting a just war against oppression. Mandela was a hero – he still is.
But Vetfaan remembers the war, and Servaas lost his only son on the border. The war, they’d tell you, was the direct result of the violent terrorism that gripped South Africa for more than three decades. While the Nationalists were seeking peaceful solutions, the ANC insisted on an armed conflict. Terrorism. And the biggest of them all? Mandela. Did he not say things, do things, that were responsible for so many unnecessary deaths?
“So,” Oudoom continues, “we must see what the Bible teaches us. If we can find an answer in The Book, then we can decide how to remember Madiba, Forget our own history, Brothers and Sisters. History is fickle: it gets re-written every time the government changes.
“But the Bible is the Bible. It doesn’t change.”
He waits for the words to sink in while he opens the book of Acts.
“I want to remind you about Saul, the young man who persecuted Christians. The Christians were afraid of him – in fact, I think it’s true to say they hated him. And then his life changed and he became the greatest evangelist of all times.”
Oudoom pauses for a second. “Now, how do we remember Paul today? Well, we remember his legacy, that’s what. He started out wrong, changed direction, and changed the world. Now…is there a single soul in this little church today, who wants to condemn this Saul/Paul character for his wrongs? Or do we celebrate his rights?”
Servaas folds his arms. This is cutting too near the bone! Is Oudoom saying he must respect the man who killed his son? Well, not directly, but still…
“Now, let us look at Mandela. Let me say it outright: I’m not – not – comparing him to any Biblical character. I’m not saying he was the Messiah or a disciple or a holy man. No man can be that. Not him, not us.
“But yes, he did end up in jail for treason and planning a civil war. I think it was Oliver Thambo who said something to the effect that their imprisonment was a blessing in disguise. In his later life he remarked that – if they went ahead with their plans – South Africa would have been a bloodbath. So, it is right to write up the history and remember the facts.
“But what is Mandela’s legacy? Why do the world’s flags hang at half-mast?
“I’ll tell you: if we had any other president after the 1994 elections, the country would have gone down the drain. Did you want Zuma back then? Who do you prefer? Mandela – for reasons we still marvel at – preached reconciliation. Forgiveness. Peace. He touched lives with his compassion. He met all his old enemies – from the warders, to the state prosecutor, to Mrs Verwoerd – in person. What do you think would have happened if Mugabe was in charge? But Mandela sat down and had tea with these men and women – and he earned their respect.”
Something strange shifted in Servaas’s mind. He imagined a South Africa with a dictator in charge. Would such a man learn to speak Afrikaans, or even try to understand the white culture? Put on the No 6 jersey at the 1995 World Cup?
“So, my dear friends, we must choose what we emphasise. What, exactly, is Mister Mandela’s legacy? The bombs? Did we not plant bombs as well? The killings? Did we not kill as well? The jail? Were we not in a spiritual jail as well?
“Well, I can tell you what I think. If we choose to remember Paul for his later life, then we must also choose to remember Mandela in context. We must decide whether we want to remember the good…or the bad.
“Tell me: do you think Madiba was always right? Of course not! But then again: who of us are? Let the purely just amongst us get up now, and tell the congregation he is without wrong, without sin.” Oudoom lets his eyes travel over his little flock, daring a single person to declare his absolute purity. “Mmmm,” he says after a second or two, “I thought so.”
Servaas glances over at Vetfaan. The burly farmer sits quietly, staring stoically ahead.
“The history of the world,” Oudoom continues, “is written with conflict. It is human nature to differ, to fight, to struggle. There is no country that can claim absolute peace and fairness and a just society. We were designed to have opinions. And it is this tendency to formulate impressions that leads to conflict. It’s been like that since the beginning. It’ll be like that till the end.
“But we…we have a limited time on Earth. Sixty, and if you’re strong, seventy years. And we’ve lived through a terrible piece of history and we’re still going strong. I’m not talking, mind you, of the current situation in the country. I’m talking about Mandela. My question is: how do we choose to remember him? And where, do I ask you, would we have been without him?
“Where would Christianity be without Paul?
“Or do we insist on remembering Saul?”
“Ja, boet.” Servaas sits down next to Vetfaan. Boggel will open the bar as soon as Oudoom closes the parsonage door, so they’ll wait outside on the stoep of Boggel’s Place for a while. “We all have a tainted history, don’t we?”
“I know, Servaas. But the war left scars. Deep ones.”
“I know.” Fanny sits down next to Vetfaan to rest her head on his shoulder. “But I think the wounds don’t bleed so much any more. Most of them are healed, leaving only the scars. And, as you know, scars are the body’s way of telling you, you had a life. No scars, no life.”
“All I can say is this: Oudoom has a point. I want to remember Paul, not Saul.” Servaas sighs heavily as he hears the key turn in the lock before Boggel pushes open the door. “And yes, things could have been much, much worse.”
When they sit down next to the counter, they see the little picture of Mandela next to the till. It;s the popular one, with Madiba in the Springbok jersey.
“Et tu, Boggel?” Fanny, with a twinkle in her eyes.
“I made a choice,” the bent little barman says. “I want to remember to be thankful. If we want a future in this country, we must not talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. We must live it. Otherwise we might as well turn back the clock and start fighting all over again. And let me tell you: the conflict we face has nothing to do with guns and bombs – it’ll be fought in our hearts. If we don’t make peace with ourselves, we’ll perish.”
“But that is true for everybody in this country, Boggel. All of us. The whole rainbow.”
“Yes, Servaas, all of us. May we remember to forget the bad and never forget to remember the good. I want to think of Madiba that way.”
He serves the first round. Boggel’s Place will be quiet today. Everybody has a lot of thinking to do.
And choices to make.
Their futures depend on it…
Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
An endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
And you it’s only seed.