A well-wisher hugs a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Picture: REUTERS
A well-wisher hugs a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Picture: REUTERS

 You notice it first as you drive out of the airport: swags of black fabric that go on and on as far as the eye can see, draped across walls and fences, covering buildings – homes and office blocks and shops and shopping centres…

Most of the swathes of black are a little time worn, faded now to grey having been drenched by the heavy rains that have preceded my visit to this Land of Smiles, Thailand.

They’ve been exposed to the elements for three months, since mid October, when they were first put up to mark the death of the beloved Thai King, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

I am in the tourist capital of Thailand, Phuket, the jewel along the Andaman coast where everything delivers on its promise of breathtakingly beautiful, spectacular.

The forested limestone karsts rise out of the sea, ancient sentinels that are a reminder that I am in the east.

Peter who will forever be remembered as a man among men: brave and funny and unflappable and steadfast and loyal and so, so clever. And kind. Always kind.

Everywhere are memories of my dear friend Peter who lived here for a decade, and who I came to see each year, who has now gone (I hope) to his own land of smiles in the sky.

Peter who will forever be remembered as a man among men: brave and funny and unflappable and steadfast and loyal and so, so clever. And kind. Always kind.

And as I mourn for my friend on this, my first visit back to the place he chose to call home, I find another communal outpouring of grief: for the Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej who sat on the throne for 70 years, and who died on October 13 at the age of 88.

The three-month time lapse since the king’s death has done little to stem the flow or the intensity of mourning.

Everywhere, waiters wear black armbands; school children have black ribbons tied to their uniforms; shops are adorned with black cloth.

Oil and Nut and Pet and Beau, staff at the hotel we are at, perched on the top of a hill overlooking Kata beach, bow their heads reverently and are requisitely sad when they remember their dead king.

Such is the apparent love for their benevolent monarch, and the concomitant outpouring of grief, that it makes me think of our own beloved Nelson Mandela whose death was mourned by the world, whose legacy of fairness will be remembered forever.

Fidel Castro’s death was equally celebrated by Cuban Americans who drove through the streets of Miami’s Little Havana, hooting and whooping

And, at the same time, I am forced to make comparisons. Not everyone’s passing carries grief.

The death of Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher (she “ruled” from 1979 to 1990) was the cause for unseemly celebration for some. She was hated as earnestly as she was loved.

She was blamed for destroying Britain’s manufacturing industry, her policies leading to mass unemployment. She supported the retention of capital punishment, she voted against the relaxation of divorce laws, she took food from the mouths of babies – abolishing free milk for school children. Her transgressions go on and on, and her lasting (negative) legacy impacts still…

Fidel Castro’s death was equally celebrated by Cuban Americans who drove through the streets of Miami’s Little Havana, hooting and whooping as they celebrated the death of the man they called el monstruo, the monster.

Many remembered the confiscation of property, incarceration for speaking against the oppressive political regime…

I wonder how the death of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwean dictator who turns 93 in February and who has ruled since 1987, will be received.

How will our own president Jacob Zuma be remembered? As the man who brought this country to its economic knees? As the man under whose rule corruption flourished?

I was recently stopped in the street by a grey haired man who asked if I was the daughter of Mr A C Naidoo, headmaster of Ladysmith’s Windsor High School.

He said I looked so much like my mother (I get that a lot) that he had to ask.

This ancient man (my father has been dead these last two decades and retired for another decade before that, so a good 40 years must have passed since he knew my dad) touched my arm and said in a quiet voice: Mr AC was the best person I ever met.

It was an astonishing thing to hear. There was such sincerity in the man’s tone.

He went on to tell me stories of my father’s kindness to him and to his children, particularly his wayward son.

He described my lovely dad as a man of such fairness that he had used him as the measure for how he conducted his own life.

“I owe Mr AC a lot – I took his principles into my business, into how I brought up my children, into how I treated my employees. He was a good man, your father.”

The man shook my hand, pumped it hard up and down, both of us a little misty eyed by now, then shuffled off – an old man who had confirmed my own view of my lovely dad.

Romans 2:6-11 points out that we, all of us, will be judged by our deeds.

It’s something politicians should consider before taking office.

Think of the deeds of the worst leaders in history: Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Pinochet, Stalin, Idi Amin… the list is long.

Think how different our world would be if there were more Nelson Mandelas, more King Bhumibol Adulyadejs, more AC Naidoos.

Perhaps it’s something that we should consider when we elect our leaders. We should be asking: How will we remember them when they’re gone?

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