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Zakes Mda: Nelson Mandela is the Man Who Resisted the Megalomania That Comes With Being Put on a Pedestal

Zakes Mda has written an article for City Press about his childhood memories of Nelson Mandela, who was his father’s attorney and friend. Mandela represented his father in a libel case after a village headman and native commissioner had called him a communist and although Mda doesn’t remember the verdict of the case, he does remember the applause that Mandela earned from crowds outside the courthouse for his cross-examination.

In the early 1950s Mda’s father, Ashby Peter Solomzi Mda, was president of the ANC Youth League with Mandela as the Secretary General. Meetings would be held at the Mda’s house and Mda writes that, “As an expert eavesdropper, these were moments that brought early political consciousness to my life. I also learnt a lot of tolerance towards those who hold different views from my own.”

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One incident that has particularly stuck with Mda was driving in Mandela’s car and he and his brother making fun of a car in front of them that was billowing smoke. “Mandela was furious with us for laughing at an African who had worked hard to buy his own car…This story lives forever in my memory because it taught me that you don’t laugh at the misfortunes of others, or at their attempts to rise above their circumstances. You treat them with compassion, with generosity of spirit and with tolerance.” It is this humility that Mda remembers, saying that it came out particularly in the post-Robben Island era: “Remember, he is the man who resisted the megalomania that comes with being put on a pedestal.”

My childhood memory of Nelson Mandela is that of a man with unique contradictions. He was a lawyer from the Johannesburg firm of Mandela & Tambo, who drove all the way to the Eastern Cape to represent my father in a libel case. My father had sued a village headman and an Afrikaner Native Commissioner for calling him a communist, which was tantamount to a crime those days.

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