Today’s memorial service for Nelson Mandela is the red carpet of the political world. Those who attend matter. Or think they do. Or (and here’s the rub) they did once matter in some way and haven’t quite factored in their changed circumstances.
Barack Obama, David Cameron, India’s President Pranab Mukherjee and governing Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi and Haiti’s President Michel Martelly will be there. So will two former British prime ministers – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and three former US presidents – George ‘Dubya’ Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu has decided against attending, pleading excessive expense ($2 million). When was the last time that excuse was used to cry off from such a weepathon as the world’s send-off to Nelson Mandela? When was the last time that Mr Netanyahu – a confirmed globe-trotter and jet-setting leader – pled austerity measures?
Anyway, here’s a useful guide on protocol, even for those of us not attending the Johannesburg event. With a little help from a knowledgeable reader, the inimitable Max Fisher of The Washington Post has put together a handy list of must-haves if you (or Sonia Gandhi) presume to call Mr Mandela ‘Madiba’, his traditional Xhosa clan name.
“It’s a term of endearment, respect and familiarity,” writes Mr Fisher, but before deploying the nickname, you should meet at least one of the following requirements. His reader offered 15 but Mr Fisher condensed them to just three:
1. You are South African
2. You were directly involved, from within South Africa, in the struggle to end apartheid (campus protests don’t qualify)
3. You had a close personal relationship with Mandela and visited him at least as frequently as did Bill Clinton.
That eliminates much of the world, particularly news anchors. If only they realized.