Home Business News An Open Letter to Mandela By Chris Ngwodo

An Open Letter to Mandela By Chris Ngwodo


Dear Madiba,

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was by the recent disclosure that you had left only a miserly $4 million to be shared by your family, the African National Congress, former staff and several local schools. $4 million? Really? Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?

With all due respect, sir, you should be ashamed of yourself. In my country, we have small time functionaries in obscure government offices performing miracles of self-enrichment with public funds on a scale that would impress Donald Trump and Richard Branson. You had a global brand and were regarded as a secular saint. You lived the ultimate fairy tale emerging from prison after 27 years to become president of one of the world’s biggest diamond-producing nations. Not since Joseph the Dreamer rose to Pharaoh’s right hand in ancient Egypt, had there been such a dramatic ascent from prison to palace.

In Nigeria, we would say that God had blessed you immeasurably and had buttered your bread for you. Some of our wisest sages here would have told you that it was your turn (and by extension, that of your Xhosa kinsmen) to eat. But what did you do with this divinely-arranged golden opportunity to chop? What did you do with the bread that God in his infinite goodness had buttered for you? You pissed it away!

Madiba, I don’t know what you were trying to prove but you took your status as a saint far too seriously. I’ve always suspected that your stint in prison broke you but this is simply ridiculous! What did those Boer jailers of yours do to you? For heaven’s sake, you were not the only political leader that went to jail! Did you learn nothing from your friends Bobby Mugabe and Baba Sege? These are tough cookies that have shown us how post-prison presidencies are run.

It would not have been out of place for a man of your stature, given your sacrifices for your people, to have claimed ownership of 70 – 80 percent of the South African economy. That’s what it really means to be the father of the nation, you see. The nation is your estate. In fact, you are the state. How could you not have cornered some diamond mines for yourself? In my country, dealing in oil blocs is part of the fine print of high office. Instead you left a laughable and execrable  $4 million (this figure upsets me so much that I want to dig you up and throw stones at you) to be shared, yes, SHARED (an outrageous insult upon injury), among family, staff, the party and local schools (local schools?! Why not leave unnecessary stuff like educating children to the League of Rich Meddlers i.e. Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates?).

What happened to buying interests in major corporations or stealthily acquiring them through dummy enterprises? What about buying villas on the French Riviera? Didn’t you ever hear of the Cayman Islands? For a man whose global brand name recognition is on par with Coca Cola and Mercedes Benz, your lack of imagination was nothing short of disgraceful. As we say in Nigeria, ‘You fall my hand.’ I knew that your hanging out with holier-than-thou party-poopers like Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama – men who have no idea how to chop – was bad for you. They were a terrible influence. Perhaps, you should have forsaken politics for the priesthood.

I repeat: you need to see the wonders that public officials, some of whom are young enough to be your grandkids, are doing here in Nigeria. Politicians with little or no accomplishments to their names reward themselves generously from state coffers and plaster their faces on self-congratulatory bill boards all over their states celebrating achievements evident only to themselves. Some of them are even generously investing in your country. In the sacrificial spirit of African brotherhood, they are providing facilities like well-equipped hospitals for your people that their own people need but are perfectly willing to give up for the love of Africa.    

You can laugh if you want (or is that a grimace?) Yes, these guys may not have been imprisoned by Boers for 27 years or emerged from the dungeons to receive global adulation; but, by Jove, they are certainly seizing the day, the night, and the public till while they are at it. They understand that public service isn’t a vow of poverty. They’ve got swag in a way that you will never understand. They do not lie awake at night worrying about nonsensical highfalutin Westernisms like legitimacy, posterity, leaving a legacy, and all that claptrap. Those concerns are for sissies not for proper big men of which my country proudly parades some of the sturdiest species.

As you sit in the heights discussing liberation theories with the likes of Julius Nyerere, (another naive idealist who obviously reveled in poverty and makes even you seem decadent), Samora Machel and all those overwrought revolutionary types who took life far too seriously, I hope you reflect on the opportunity that you missed to chop. I don’t know what poor Winnie and Graca are supposed to do. It is not surprising that your grand daughters have taken to reality TV. Now those are people who know how to use the Mandela brand.

Fortunately, despite your best efforts to embarrass us, it doesn’t seem as though you’ve started a trend. Mo Ibrahim, that do-gooder tycoon who apparently doesn’t know what to do with his money, is about to give up his quixotic search for leaders made in your image. His quest has proven futile. My understanding is that he will shortly turn his attentions to awarding prizes to footballers and artistes, and not a moment too soon.

One other positive news is from your own country. Thank heavens, Jay Zee aka Jacob Zuma is a proper big man who knows what to do with the presidency.

Yours sincerely,

The Disappointed    


1.      If you’re considering reincarnating, please don’t. We’ve had enough of you and your terrible example. As it is, we are trying to undo the damage you’ve done. So just stay up there where you belong.

2.      On a somewhat lighter note, last year, just after your demise, one of my president’s spokesmen reportedly referred to him as the Nigerian version of yourself because he is the only president to have spent a grand total of thirteen hours talking with our pesky perennially-striking university lecturers. I imagine you feel bemused or perhaps even insulted by the comparison. Don’t sweat it. My president is far too focused on becoming the best president Nigeria has ever had (He really means Africa but is far too modest to say it) to be distracted by such pettiness. Unlike you, he is not given to any vainglorious anxieties about whether he is played by Idris Elba, Morgan Freeman or, for that matter, Aki and Pawpaw, in any future biopic. Of course, he also knows better than to take his admiring but loquacious sycophant of a messenger seriously. Unlike you, he knows that presidents don’t live by quotable quotes and lofty speeches alone; they have to eat as well.

The joke is on you, Madiba.   

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