Frank’s Archive is a project that explores the different functions of books, power and knowledge. My dad, J.E. Frank, has left me numerous books relating to race, class, apartheid and politics in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Leaving South Africa in the early 70s, my father decided to sail around the world and eventually jumped ship in London where he became active in the anti-apartheid struggle and worked with the Institute of Race Relations. At a young age I realized politics must be something important–as at one occasion my beloved Spice Girls poster was replaced by an African National Congress flag without any warning. Something to do with capitalism and the commercial music industry, just big words for me at the time.
Part of the difficulty of organizing this ritual is this: nearly 20 years after apartheid we are scattered generations with diverse fates. We have lived long enough after 1994 to not only be the oppressed. We also now include both the beneficiaries and the losers. We are both the celebrators and the cynics. We are the unemployed and we are also the new business elite. We are the party officials, the parliamentarians, the bureaucrats; but we are also the most vocal critical dissidents and leaders of new social movements. We are the ruling party and we are also the opposition. We are the committed and we are the disinterested, the disappointed and the eternally optimistic. In this moment, where Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Nelson Mandela was also above all, the name of a comrade among those on the Island and in exile, we are all reminded of shared generational births into a political community. It is these generations who want to sing their political songs , their songs of longing, defiance and fighting, to laugh and smile and cry together. Grief has that effect of re-uniting the dispersed– even if ever so briefly.
Nelson Mandela’s post-presidency saw the rise of a larger-than-life caricature of himself, one that somehow managed to be smaller than both the real accomplishments of the man as revolutionary and politician, and an apolitical, often commercial, valorization of the failures of a lengthy transition to democracy that never seems to amount to liberation.
One way of looking at Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words at the end of the farcical Nelson Mandela’s memorial service is that of an angry patriarch embarrassed by the actions of errant adolescents. The other is that the archbishop was stepping into a void that used to be filled by the larger-than-life figure of Nelson Mandela. In the absence of the towering Madiba, and the presence of little mutinies that wouldn’t be doused by the drizzle, the diminutive clergyman showed that South Africans are not a rowdy bunch, misbehaving apropos of nothing.