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Chris Ford: Nelson Mandela - his life is now in extra time

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 The end is near for Mandela.

Despite today's reports about him enjoying a slight improvement in his condition, it is only slight. Also older people whose lives are coming to an end tend to experience brief rallies before finally succumbing. 

No doubt Mandela's doctors recognise this as does the South African Government. Ordinary South Africans on the other hand are, understandably, reluctant to let him go. It has been absolutely heart warming to see media reports about South Africans of all races coming to be near to Mandiba as the end nears. They want him to fully recover (as is no doubt natural) but many are now becoming increasingly resigned to his leaving us sooner rather than later.

When he does leave us, he will leave behind a South Africa that has escaped the worst excesses that have plagued other African states such as long periods of inter-tribal warfare and authoritarian rule. Mandela can be credited, and rightly so, with unifying the country after the long years of political apartheid.  His magnaminious nature endeared him to an endless cast of international politicians, celebrities and ordinary people alike. It is likely that many of them will turn up for Mandela's funeral. Consequently, I predict that Mandela's state funeral will become one of the largest (if not the largest) in history outstripping those held for Britain's King Edward VII (1910), US President John F. Kennedy (1963) and Pope John Paul II (2005).

I would dear say that the family (which is today reportedly squabbling over where his final resting place should be) maybe delaying taking Mandela off life support altogether not only for the reason that he could be making a final rally but to settle the matter of his burial place before they do so. The South African Government, which through current President Jacob Zuma has been taking an active interest in Mandela's care, will also want the former president's passing to be a slow and measured one for both political and pragmatic reasons, even though they will (for obvious reasons) never state this openly. No doubt they too will be wanting Mandela to exit slowly as they are probably putting together the final touches to the state funeral arrangements that, one would suspect, have been many years in the making. I would say that the South African Government, dominated by Mandela's African National Congress colleagues, will want to stage a real hero's funeral to honour his passing. Besides, the country is currently hosting President Obama and the South Africans will be wanting his visit to proceed as smoothly as possible under the circumstances. Furthermore, the South African Government and sporting bodies will want to ensure that as much as domestic sport (and crucially Super 15 rugby) is completed as possible as it was reported this week that all sporting fixtures will be cancelled during an expected 10 day official mourning period. Similarly, the South African economy will need to be prepared for a near complete shutdown during the mourning period as all but essential services and industries are expected to be closed during this time. Undoubtedly, many South Africans will not feel like working anyway as real, raw grief will understandably sweep the country when Mandela finally passes.

The world outside South Africa will mourn Mandela's passing too. At the moment, we should all be appreciative that one of the greatest liberation leaders of all time is still with us. But only for now. It's clear, to use a rugby metaphor, that Mandela's life has now gone into extra time. I have to admit too that even while there maybe pragmatic reasons behind the family deciding to keep him on life support at this stage, Mandela himself may also be playing for extra time as his strong will and determination come to the fore one final time. How long that extra time is is, perhaps, up to his family as Mandela will likely fight on until the final whistle. When the final whistle blows, though, the world will hear it and invade the pitch one final time to honour a great statesman and human being.





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