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The gun of Mandela
It lies lost and buried beneath the ground. Verashni Pillay imagines what it may be used for.

There are moments in history when an entire continent seems to shudder and shake. Moments when drastic upheavals involving people and governments appear to affect the very land itself, so that the recent deluge of floods across the country causing crops to fail and people to die, seems intrinsically linked to the deteriorating health of a beloved icon.

Wild stories circulated as Nelson Mandela lay hidden within Milpark Hospital last week. The communication blackout left a tortured nation with nothing but its fears to feed on. In the tenuous space between fact and fancy strange tales emerged.

Perhaps the most curious of these was the case of Mandela's missing pistol. The gleaming Makarov was gifted to a young Mandela by his military trainer in Ethiopia and may have been the first weapon of ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe. He buried it one cold winter's day in 1962 in the farmlands around Liliesleaf. After proudly showing it to a friend he tenderly wrapped it in plastic, foil and an army uniform and sunk it into the ground.

Decades later, houses and property have sprung up around Liliesleaf, wreaking havoc with Mandela's mental map of the gun's place. The armed struggle came to an end, Mandela was released, but the Makarov remained lost underground, with just 200 bullets for company. In memory, as in legend, one may well imagine its metal encasing aglow, emitting a quiet hum as it waits to be discovered. And like the sword Excalibur, it may be drawn out only by a soul worthy enough.

And in this moment, this first month of a new year, the continent has never been shorter on worthy souls, even as it is desperately in need of them.

In Pretoria a government, three generations removed from Mandela, pussyfoot around a tinpot dictator and his representative. Sources say South Africa is rather inclined that Laurent Gbagbo, discredited and defeated former Côte d'Ivoire leader, remain in power against all rhyme and reason. While the rest of the rational world recognise Alassane Outtara as the rightful leader of the nation after free and fair elections, we're calling for a recount -- and giving further credence to a special kind of African electoral madness.

In the musings of a feverish nation, Mandela's Makarov will be redeemed from the ground. The first of its 200 bullets will put an end to the madness in Cote d'Ivoire. Abidjan will again be the Paris of Africa, music will play in her streets and dictators will never rule her again.

Corrupt governments
Next the gun would train itself on North Africa, where decades of American funding had propped up decrepit dictators hanging on to power for 20 years and more. Grassroots protests spread like wildfire across the Arab world, first unseating Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak next on the list. As citizens of these countries realise they no longer need to live with corrupt governments, no basic freedoms and endemic poverty and unemployment, governments resort to their old tricks of unleashing an army against its own people. Over a 100 protestors have died in Egypt already. The gun cocks itself and aims at the epicentre of the melee: the stubborn heart of power that has long overstayed its welcome.

In South Sudan, the pistol aims straight into the sky, firing of a single shot announcing a new dawn for this nascent nation. It is a warning shot for those who would harbour thoughts of selfish gain at the expense of the people of the region.

As it heads home, the pistol makes a stop-over in Zimbabwe. Where fresh elections have become synonymous with fresh madness and foreign firms quake as Robert Mugabe casts around for new loot for his blood-thirsty supporters, the gun's shot is sharp and clear. It calls Zimbabwe's hounded children back home, where for the first time in decades they may live in their heartbreakingly beautiful land in peace.

A call for murder? Vigilante justice in the interest of nations? Not at all. Where one strong man falls by force another will spring up in his place. The Makarov of my imagining defeats the evils that its owner fought against his entire life. And it upholds the principles that he was prepared to die for.

  • You can read Verashni's column every Monday here, and follow her on Twitter here.