PATRIOTISM IS NOT AN ANNUAL EVENT
At about this time every year, we embark on an orgy of celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.
Reams of tributes are written about him. Politicians, peasants and tycoons reminisce about their years or 10 minutes spent in the presence of the great man. We in the media dig up octogenarians and nonagenarians to recall memories of him.
Kugels ditch their red-soled high heels and don overalls as they go off to paint schools.
Even the most squeamish snobs head for orphanages, where they wipe snot off the faces of babies. Some crazy creatures decide to torture themselves by climbing mountains and taking selfies 6 000km above sea level.
Mandela’s quotes are regurgitated like verses from the holy books. But what has been disappointing is that one of his most famous quotes never makes it on to the news pages.
It was a statement he issued in December 1995 after the great, mighty and glorious Orlando Pirates won the African Champions League – the only southern African team to have won the tournament, which has been dominated by teams from the north and the west.
Mandela’s statement read: “I am absolutely delighted by the success of Orlando Pirates football club in the African Champions Cup competition ... Orlando Pirates has given South African football the incentive and confidence we need as we approach the African Nations Cup tournament in January 1996.
“They have done what every patriot is expected to do on behalf of his country and his people. May they go from strength to strength.”
As Mandela so prophetically predicted, the confidence of the team that went into the Africa Cup of Nations a month later was greatly boosted by Pirates’ triumph. Members of the Pirates side who had won the Champions League formed the nucleus of the victorious Bafana Bafana squad that conquered Africa that year.
In inspiring Bafana Bafana to that victory, Orlando Pirates had done, as Mandela had so aptly put it, “what every patriot is expected to do”.
In keeping with that spirit, patriots have stepped up to the plate by turning much of July into a festival of giving.
By Monday, however, the patriotism and spirit of giving had evaporated like an Eastern Cape government budget. All the lovely Madiba Day platitudes had dried up. We wound up our windows when the blind beggars approached us at traffic lights with their empty cans, shouted angrily at enthusiastic window washers and waved the car guards away when they tried to impart their superior K53 expertise.
Company executives continued to exploit their workers and politicians went back to their lying ways. Robbers went back to robbing and the ladies of the night returned to their lucrative pavements.
In a way, Mandela Day runs the risk of turning into one of those symbolic public holidays, like Youth Day and Women’s Day, which have been gutted of meaning.
On both these days, bored people trek to venues where they listen to politicians giving dry speeches full of promises and empty rhetoric.
For their pain, they are rewarded with polystyrene containers with a piece of wors and a bread roll, accompanied by a polystyrene cup filled with weak Oros juice. After the exercise, everybody – speakers and listeners – goes home and forgets about it all until the next year.
If we are to stop Mandela Day from becoming a conscience-salving tick box, it needs to become a bigger idea. It needs to be about us searching for the idea of the perfect South Africa – an elusive concept, but one worth pursuing.
The day has to be about the kind of South Africa that we all say he fought for. It cannot be possible that just a day after July 18 we immediately forget about the poor and marginalised people we were so concerned about 24 hours earlier. It cannot be that businesses return to their terrible practices just after giving their staff some time off to do good deeds.
Or that Nathi Nhleko, Cedric Frolick, Mathole Motshekga and Doris Dlakude continue to sell South Africans that dirty lie about security features at Nkandla just days after promising to emulate Mandela’s principled ways.
The mantra of making every day a Mandela Day needs to be internalised and given practical application in the 11 months that we are not commemorating Mandela.
This practical application has to be in the form of good deeds and general behaviour.
The daily questions we should be asking are: How do we fight poverty every day in our personal spaces? What do we do to eliminate racism and other forms of discrimination in our workplaces and communities?
Do we do enough to fight corruption wherever we see it, or is the anticorruption message just a slogan? Does honesty and integrity define our daily doings for 365 days?
Do we, in our daily work, as the great and glorious Orlando Pirates football club did in December 1995, do “what every patriot is expected to do for his country and his people”?