One of the great advantages of working for a newspaper rather than a syndicate is that a strip can be done on deadline like an editorial cartoon. Madam & Eve has always been a bit of both, and the iconic South African strip can thus take a break from mocking and hammering against government corruption and self-serving bureaucracies to express concern for Nelson Mandela, who just spent two days in the hospital as crowds gathered outside and the media went on full alert.
It has been a moment to put aside the mordant humor and speak to the response of moderates throughout South Africa. It is asking a lot to expect a 92-year-old man who spent more than a quarter of a century in prison not to shuffle off this mortal coil, but if few on the outside know any more about the country than the name "Nelson Mandela," it's also true that many on the inside consider him to be the glue that holds things together, and, even though he has very much retired from public life, they feel they are not prepared for a nation without him in it.
In the Daily Maverick, columnist Branko Brkic remembers his experience 30 years ago, when Marshall Tito died and the delicate balance in Yugoslavia was threatened: "South Africa is not ready to let go of Nelson Mandela, and not just because of love for the man. The irrational fear of what his passing might bring is rooted in a real problem: an immature democracy still too easily threatened by bad leadership. Which is all the more reason to better implement what he taught us."
He goes on to concede that the comparison is not perfect, and yet we have seen what happened to Yugoslavia without Tito. The fear in that country at that time was quite rational, the fear in South Africa is, rather, of a fate that really doesn't have to be.
If this small crisis provokes some constructive thought about the future, perhaps Madiba will have, once more, served his nation.
And, with that in mind, it's good to see a popular cartoon that can do more than recycle the same old gags on a three-week deadline.