After Madiba - a lingering fear

In the nation's capital, one sees an unhealthy dollop of caution mixed into the compassionate response to persistently bleak news about Nelson Mandela's health.

Before asking for any details one might have on the condition of South Africa's first democratically elected president, many people ask: what do you think will happen when he goes?

They are, of course, asking if one expects violence to follow the passing of Madiba, who is going into his sixth day in a serious but stable condition in a Pretoria hospital where he is being treated for a lung infection.

Speculation about the possibility of post-Mandela violence has been running for weeks.

When it comes to such apocalyptic analysis, Pretoria tends to lead the nation.

I recall two decades back, when South Africans were unsure about the path their country was following in its transition.

They not only braced for violence but started hoarding water and canned food to survive the aftermath of the expected night of the long knives, but stacked up the liquid petroleum canisters with which to cook the emergency rations.

The phone lines into the newspaper I was working on were clogged.

The enquirers said they knew that in terms of the emergency regulations we were not permitted to discuss their would-be assassins' plans, but they appealed to us as human beings to let them know if their children's schools or their own places of employment were in the cross hairs.

Nothing one said could persuade them that they were wrong on all counts.

There was no plan to, as it were, wash the spears. And had there been, we would have been perfectly entitled to provide them with the information to avoid such a terrible fate.

So one has a sense of déjà vu at the incredulity one faces when saying that there are no plans for violence at the end of the life of a man who has so patently devoted his to making peace.

What makes these people expect the worst?

Twenty years ago, it was an acceptance that for all money the racist policies of the Apartheid regime and its predecessors had made the country one that for all money was going to end in blood and tears.

It is largely thanks to Nelson Mandela that this never happened.

So, perhaps the lingering fear that things might still go lethally pear-shaped comes from a deep-seated realisation that when all is said and done, we got away with murder.