It was with a deep feeling of sadness and relief that I awoke on December 6, 2013 to the news that our beloved leader, Nelson Mandela, had passed away the night before. I was relieved because I was tired of his prolonged illness being media fodder and the family bickering, a source of front page sensationalism, could finally take a back seat. He’s an old man and I’m sure he, like many old people when they reach that age, must have thought that God had forsaken him and forgotten about him. His family, too, must have been tired of watching their dear beloved husband, ex-husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather suffer this prolonged illness. Why was I sad? I believed in the ANC when Nelson Mandela was in charge. I believed in the ANC when Thabo Mbeki was in charge (albeit, I disagreed with several of his policies and overtly academic statements). But I’ve slowly watched decay from the very depths of a party I once admired, infiltrate our state enterprises and state organs and, with dismay, I’ve observed the corruption take root everywhere. And it was considering that sentence that I at once felt guilt. I’ve watched. Yes, I complain on Twitter and Facebook and I commiserate with many of my friends from a broad spectrum of the population about the evil that has beset the ruling party. But mostly, I’ve watched. I’ve voted, yes, which is a very active way of creating change in the country, but other than that, I’ve really just watched. Admittedly, I’m not your common or garden variety white person living in South Africa, complaining about the miserable state of affairs that “they” (not “we”, surely) have created, but I’ve still just watched.
My vote is my secret, but I’ll tell you this much: all political parties are comprised of politicians, which essentially renders them immoral gaggles of liars. What one has to do to help create a balanced democracy out of an essentially one-party state, is to create better competition with one’s vote. (This is assuming you don’t want to join the immoral gaggle of liars and become an active politician. I have thought about, mind you. I’ve thought about it seriously.) So my vote is no longer about a party’s policies or lack thereof. There are several parties who appear to have very few policies, but they’re there. They have someone who puts up the R100 000 every election time for them to remain registered and the much more money required to fund their campaigns. So clearly, sound governing policies are not necessarily required to be a party in this country’s government. My vote is about creating a lively and vibrant true multi-party democracy. And now there are one of us! I feel….
So I vote which is admirable and I vote without a heart. I vote with my head for a democratic and free society, which is what Nelson Mandela stood up in a dock and proclaimed was his dream and what is, actually, what he went to prison defending our right to have. But I don’t do much. The week of platitudes which followed Nelson Mandela’s death kind of made me sick, but had an impact. We should carry on his legacy! What does that mean really? What does it really mean? I’m not going to prison because I bomb a government building because the government sucks. I don’t really see myself, at this age, going out into the streets to protest the total failure of our current government to build on the good programmes put in place by Thabo Mbeki’s government. I wouldn’t know where to start a protest like that. I’m not in Varsity any more. Should I enrol in a LLB at Unisa or something? I want to be a lawyer only slightly more than I want to be a politician! With all due respect to the lawyers reading this. I’m sure it’s an admirable profession. So what is it that I can do to continue “his” legacy? It struck me as I was running back with a number of my fellow RAC Comrades from visiting Madiba’s house to lay some flowers and to pay our last respects to a man who courageously helped build a country of which we could all be proud. It struck me even more so as I ran with a crowd of runners the following day in Orlando.
If you’ve spent time reading my blogs, you’ll know that the thing I love most about running is that it transcends colour, creed, gender, physical ability or disability, aesthetics, everything. It’s its own little democracy, where everyone is on the same journey. Everyone feels the same pains, the same anxieties, the same fears and the same sense of achievement or failure as they run along. I have sometimes had the joy of running with someone who, for the last year, I’ve called “Diepkloof” because that is his running club and that was the name on his shirt when I first met him. That week in Orlando, he found out my name is Brenda (not RAC as is written on MY shirt) and I found out his name is Harry. Harry and I run at a similar pace and he loves to sing a rhythmic chant as we amble along. Sometimes he lets me sing, but I’m kinda shy, so I’m usually just the chorus to his rhythm. It gives me an enormous sense of well-being running near Harry. I feel a deep and loving feeling towards him that requires no expression from me nor reciprocation from him. He may never know how much seeing him on the road means to me. He is a kindred spirit to me on that road. I feel his pain and he feels my pain and we have a caring empathy for one another but also a sincere desire to see each other do well on the road.
And that is the legacy! That sincere empathy for the people of our family, our community, our country, our continent and the world and a sincere desire to see them prosper. Harry and I don’t sugar coat the fact that we come from two vastly different cultures and may even harbour some prejudices towards each other. What we have found is a common thread which can, just momentarily, help us forget about the things that we don’t have in common and which don’t matter and have us focussing on what matters: helping one another be great; helping one another through tough times; sharing in each others’ joys.
Nelson Mandela’s death has ignited in me a long-smouldering flame which desires that people love one another, that they care about one another and that we place others at the heart of our actions. I can do that with my running. I have made a renewed commitment to use this thing that I love so much as the instrument of love and peace and community that it can so easily be. I will make an effort to, every single time I run, greet every single person I see on the road who is not part of my run. I will make an effort to befriend someone running with me who seems somehow different to me or frightening to me, not just those who seem like me or interesting or likeable to me. In so doing, I hope to create a society around me that genuinely cares about one another and that sees goodness in one another and that learns to trust one another again.
My challenge to you, especially if you’re a runner, on your next run out on your own or in a small group: Greet everyone you pass on your run with a smile and a friendly “Hello!”, “Good morning!”, “Sanbonani!”, “Dumela!” or “Hola!”. Some may greet you. Some may ignore you. Some may scorn you. Some may be shocked by you. Some may smile back. Some may even laugh. You have to be brave to do this! Many of us runners are shy and introverted, so you’ll have to be brave. You may have to let go of old prejudices and you may have to face some pretty scary fears, but you’re a runner, so you do that every time you run! You can do it! Let me know if you do this. I’d love to hear the beautiful stories of our wonderful world. You may change someone’s day or even their world view or even their life for the better. You will definitely be spreading love and you will be helping to continue the legacy that is Nelson Mandela. Most of all, you’ll be spreading love and that’s the most important thing in this world.
Runners: Take up the challenge!
Yours in the spirit of love and running.
The Slow Coach