News that Nelson Mandela is ill in hospital for the third time this year takes me right back to 1990. There is the fateful sense of history about to be made.
Rewind to 1990 and I’m standing in The Times of India newsroom in Delhi with my good friend and colleague S Prasannarajan. He was the chief sub that night (and so, responsible for the edition). News was just rolling in that Mandela has been freed from prison, with all the enormous implications for South Africa’s apartheid regime. We led with this, of course. It was a great day to make a paper. (Never mind that we had a competing, equally important story, with more regional focus, from Sri Lanka, about the death of an LTTE leader. Mandela won through.)
Time rolled on and Mr Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize and became South Africa’s first black president a year later. Now, ‘Madibe’ is a living legend. He is the Gandhi that lives. The world seems to want the sense of continuity.
But in South Africa at any rate there is a sense that Madibe may be the Gandhi who lived – and now dies. That is clear-eyed and hard, but real enough philosophizing about Madibe passing pn.
“It’s time to let him go” reads the main headline in South Africa’s Sunday Times this morning. It quotes Nelson Mandela’s friend and fellow struggle veteran Andrew Mlangeni, urging Mandela’s family to “release him spiritually and put their faith in the hands of God”.
It is hard to visualize a different outcome. Madibe is 94, frail and beset by the tuberculosis he contracted in his 27 years in prison.