I’ve found lately that my opinion of people changes drastically when I find out a little more about them. It happened with Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and now, Thabo Mbeki.
Mark Gevisser’s The Dream Deferred is a fantastic book. It’s a pretty in depth look into Thabo Mbeki’s soul. More than just following the life of South Africa’s president, Gevisser tries to see and understand who he is as a person. Although I’ve only read a small part of the book, I am engrossed.
There is something about being a black man. It is as though at birth your identity is stolen and you have one of two choices, spend your life seeking it, or claim another. There is such an assault on us by the media and public perception. There’s an incredible pressure to conform to an identity created by mass media. So much so, that trying to figure out and then just being who you are will at the very least get you marked out as a non-conformist at best.
In reading Mandela and Obama’s autobiographies, I was stuck by the recurring theme of the search for identity. Mark Gevisser’s perception of the same struggle in Mbeki really has really impressed me. I am a little jealous of him. I would have loved to have spent that much time researching, distilling and then putting one of my fathers’ lives onto paper. It might have helped me on my pilgrimage. Maybe one day.
Already, I have a new found respect, as well as compassion and maybe even a little affection for President Mbeki.