The Jewish Report Editorial

Can there be something new under the sun?

  • GeoffEditorial
The close of another year. As we end 2014, what is different in the headlines from what was going on at the end of previous years? Like the year 1998 when the Jewish Report was established. In the 16 years since the paper started we have produced some 750 issues, and if one scrolls through them, many of the headlines ring the same as those of today.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Dec 03, 2014

For example: There is still no answer on the horizon for solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict; terrorism and religious conflict are the order of the day. Corruption and crime in South Africa is still on the rise. Jews are still arguing over what it means to live a truly Jewish life. Anti-Semitism is still on the rise. And South Africa still struggles to find its post-apartheid identity and the place of minorities like the Jews within it.

However, there is one watershed historical moment which defines South Africa - and the world - and which changed the headlines on February 11, 1990. That is the day Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison. Millions of people are familiar with that iconic photograph of Madiba walking straight-backed into the sunshine as a free man, holding hands with his wife Winnie, smiling at the world and immediately taking charge of the national mood and injecting positivity and optimism into it.

For most whites it was their first glimpse of what he actually looked like - for decades during apartheid it had been illegal even to possess a photograph of him; no newspaper could ever publish a picture of this “terrorist”, this “arch-enemy of the people”.

And here was this tall, stately, elderly gentleman with greying hair who had been locked up for 27 years, who emerged into the sunlight with a broad smile engaging with people of all creeds and races.  

In the consciousness of our nation, there is a definite “before Mandela” and “after Mandela” ethos.

This week, the first anniversary of his death, we have a little more distance to do justice to him as an extraordinary man, not just a symbol. His funeral was such a larger-than-life event, that many dignitaries were there, seemingly more to promote their own image than pay homage to one of the greatest statesmen and human beings of the century. The hype surrounding him, where every second-rate artist, writer and politician scrambled to claim a little bit of his glory as if it would rub off on them, has thankfully receded to some extent.

Leadership quality is not something one can buy. Nor integrity. Mandela had great leadership inherent to his being - a unifying presence that kept a fractious country together. If you had only two words to use, which would you choose to describe him? Integrity and reconciliation would fit the bill.

The quality of our leaders since then has unfortunately declined dramatically. Mediocrity and self-serving motives have become the benchmark.

What would it take to produce another person of his stature? We have hoped in vain for a “Mandela” to emerge in the Middle East. Is it possible? What distinguishes the people of that region from South Africans? One aspect is that even through the difficult years of apartheid, there was intrinsic goodwill between South Africans. They wanted to succeed.

Sadly, the will to find a lasting solution seems to be lacking in the Middle East, as if the peoples of that region have given up on peace. The optimistic phrase “solving the conflict”, has increasingly evolved into another, more cynical expression – “managing the conflict”. As if it will always be there.

Hopefully, there will emerge one day in the Middle East too a leader whose life will define a “before” and “after”, where cynicism becomes replaced by hope and goodwill.

Mandela taught that miracles do happen, that the impossible is sometimes achievable. Is it too much to hope that the headlines in the Middle East will not always be predominantly about war, violence and hatred?



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