HARARE – My perennial visual image of Nelson Mandela is of his cell at Robben Island.
I was among a group of Zimbabwean journalists visiting South Africa, shortly after the end of apartheid, one of the most savage attacks by human beings on other human beings in the history of humankind.
Listening to accounts of the brutality of apartheid on all non-Africans, after Mandela’s death last week, you got the creepy sensation that humankind can sink to levels of unimaginable cruelty to their fellows.
Your gut feeling is that there ought to be a special kind of punishment for such people.
Meanwhile, ordinary politicians can be hard-headed.
Often they are stuck in the same trough, munching on the same old mulch, because change would be an admission of fallibility.
All of them are likely to deny this vehemently.
They will swear they are subject to change, as long as they believe it is for the good.
But the only reason they would adapt to change would be if it advanced their political careers.
If that was not the case, then I would expect President Jacob Zuma to immediately abandon all work on his splendiferous Inkandla estate.
He should transfer every rand to the construction of lavatories in all former townships, built during apartheid, but still without such essential facilities, nearly 20 years later.
If the voters of South Africa rejected the ANC in the next elections on this issue alone, I personally would applaud them.
How can any party which cares for the people’s welfare justify such a monumental omission?
Many people are convinced Zuma is not impressed enough with Mandela to adopt his work ethic.
Mandela was a giant of an intellectual, a man who looked far beyond his own short-lived presidency.
He looked to a world which would adopt policies that included the future of humanity, the future of the children, the future of the poor and the future of all to have the potential to better themselves as human beings.
Mandela lived to offer his people the opportunities to improve their lot, to reach for the sky, as long as their country made that available to them.
In one African country, the policy of reconciliation was pronounced amid much hope that all citizens would be treated equally.
The reality was scarcely equal to that ambition.
A whole race was almost marginalised, the economy suffering the ravages of lightweight foreign investment, as a result.
Most of us have no clear idea what Zuma thought of the “Mandela Magic”.
He is not a lawyer, and is not known to have written anything comparable to Mandiba’s.
So, the reality must be that Zuma, serving his last term as president, will not display any ardour for the kind of progressive, libertarian and unifying policies that would be applauded by all Africans as enhancing Africa’s future.
How many Africans can identify with the comparison, worldwide, between Madiba and Mahatma Gandhi?
The Mahatma was assassinated for uniting India.
If he had lived, there is no telling what kind of glorious changes India would have achieved.
Illness cut short Mandela’s ambitious plans to change South Africa to what the Rainbow Nation ought to have achieved.
Neither Thabo Mbeki nor Jacob Zuma would have grasped Mandela’s dream.
Only he could have made it understandable enough for the ordinary people to walk boldly after him to that glorious destiny.
For Africa, Madiba must have represented a brand of courage unseen since 1957.
There ought to be a number of “Madibas” waiting in the wings, even in South Africa itself.