Last Wednesday night I tuned in to the ABC News24 coverage of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela expecting somber reverence or perhaps the kind of party that only Africans can do.
I should have known it would be something else.
The start was delayed by the requirement for every dignitary to make his or her own special entrance aided by typically inept African organizing but, conveniently, heavy rain could take the blame.
And nobody seemed to mind.
Filling in the airtime was anther matter. The ABC wheeled in a former activist who had struggled against the apartheid regime and then escaped [long before Mandela was released] to become an Australian citizen.
Unfortunately he was sadly bitter. His deep hurt and anger had travelled with him and he still had it in spades. His comments ran as though the oppressors were still oppressing and Nelson Mandela had not existed. This attitude of hatred and recrimination was exactly what Mandela knew he had to diffuse. The miracle was that through courage and compassion he did it for a nation, but sadly not for this exile.
Quickly we abandoned the ABC and its disrespectful commentator and streamed the coverage.
You had to laugh out loud at the antics.
There were the random guys in the foyer as the dignitaries arrived. These are the traditional ‘hangers around’ that are everywhere in Africa, who obviously had nothing to do but hang around. Presumably they had security clearance… presumably.
There was an extraordinary performance by a gospel cum rap singer trying desperately to energise the crowd to God by being energetic himself. As his antics became more and more exuberant another random guy assigned to hold an umbrella over the singer was finding it more and more difficult to complete his assigned task. He was stoic and hugely comical as he did his best.
Then there was the huge amusement of Ban Ki Moon claiming the applause of another African dignitary as the latter ascended the stage to be embarrassingly ignored by the UN Secretary General.
President Obama showed how to calm the restless crowd with an impassioned speech that closed in on the truth of what Mandela gave us. Cleverly he still managed a sly dig at the current crop of African leaders who cannot hold a candle anywhere near the father of the nation. Only he spoilt it later by helping the Danish PM take a selfie — and we thought only Kevin Rudd did that.
And there were the boos for President Jacob Zuma. Not, as I thought at the time, because there was politics even at the memorial service for one of the world’s greatest, but because he had not made the day a public holiday. Fair enough, he deserves a slap for that.
Then we ran out of steam and let the remaining hours of the ceremony go.
The bit we watched was classic Africa, full of cheer, cheek and irreverence layered over famously sloppy organization. It rained and was obviously cold, went on for hours, and still the people danced to celebrate a great life.
I reckon Madiba was watching all the antics as proud as punch with his famous smile lighting up the heavens.