In the past weeks, South Africans and international viewers around the world have watched anxiously as news of Nelson Mandela’s hospitalization rang out. Conspiracy, some cried. Sadness, others lamented. Optimism, many begged. With news that the former South African President and Anti-Apartheid figure-head is now safely at home after his extended medical attention, the public has begun to calm down but what was the purpose of all the hype?
Nelson Mandela, often called the father or democratic South Africa, recently celebrated his 94th birthday. He is regarded as the leader of the anti-apartheid movement and South Africa’s first democratic president after serving 27 years in prison. Over the course of the last few years, Mandela has suffered from several bouts of respiratory illness ranging from tuberculosis to the recent episodes of lung infection.
It came as no surprise, therefore, when the former president was hospitalized again in late 2012. Mandela has been in and out of medical care over the years yet this time people became worried. Current South African president Jacob Zuma and other spokespersons for Mandela were vague in their explanations, unwilling to compromise with journalists, or hint to the public out of a desire to keep Mandela’s personal life private. They were certainly successful—perhaps too successful as their vagueness sparked international speculation as to exactly how ill the former president truly was. Nearly three weeks passed with little word about Mandela’s health and speculations continued to soar.
Madiba was discharged from hospital soon after Christmas but the hype brought forth over a potential cover-up signals just how fragile developing South Africa still is. Accordingly, many wonder what will occur when Mandela passes away. It is the root of why so many claimed conspiracy during Mandela’s hospitalization. Voices on across social media sources speculated that Mandela’s spokespersons conveyed vague messages on purpose—to keep news of how serious the illness actually was under wraps; to hide the fact that he was dead; and most importantly of all, to quell possible social unrest that may arise with detailed explanations.
With apartheid’s end just over twenty years ago, social tensions in South Africa remain strained. The glue that holds a once torn nation together, some would say, is in fact the symbol of unity that is Nelson Mandela. It is as if he is a favoured grandfather, an all-seeing sage that no one in South Africa dare disappoint.
For the present time, South Africans and the world alike can rest assured that Nelson Mandela and all that he represents remain in one piece. With Madiba turning 95 years old this coming July, however, one still wonders what the future of South Africa will holds without its symbol of unity.
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