What does Mandela Day mean to you? We feature two takes on the issue
There’s just no other way to look at the man; Madiba was a secular saint and his calm head pulled us back from the abyss, writes KEVIN RITCHIE Every day needs to be Mandela Day rather than merely an opportunity to curate our ‘goodness’ on social media, wr
WHAT is Nelson Mandela to you? Is he a tea towel, a wall clock? Is he a T-shirt, a bangle you wear on your wrist? Is he a sell out? Is he a saint? For many, he’s all of this and more; a favourite coffee mug, a blanket, a wall hanging, even a bedside book (in about 30 different iterations).
For me it’s simple: he’s a saint, a secular one to be sure, but a saint nonetheless. He might not have brought anyone back from the dead or healed disease, but he certainly brought about miracles.
The first was on the night of April 10, 1993, Easter Saturday. Chris Hani had been shot dead at his home in Boksburg. As the news spread, tempers flared, but that night Mandela spoke on the SABC – not President FW de Klerk – and pulled the country back from the abyss.
With the passage of time, we often forget just how long we spent teetering on the rim of that pit of hell: Boipatong, Mmabatho, Bhisho.
We airbrush out the Shell House massacre, the last bloody writhing of the white right wing and the deadly bomb blasts throughout the Johannesburg CBD and at Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo) as the fractured nation prepared to go to the polls on April 27, 1994.
We forget the killing fields of KZN. The vicious blood feuds masquerading as politics, the desperate underhanded bids to hold on to power at any cost, people slain and left to rot in the undergrowth, corpses driven over by police Casspirs.
Instead, we were given the miracle of the Rainbow Nation and the space 20 years later to deride it as “rainbowism” and sneer at its adherents, all deep into middle-age and more than a little confused at how it blurred.
We can do this because of a myopia that lets kids grow up in classrooms not knowing their grandparents had to carry dompasse, couldn’t do certain jobs because of the colour of their skin – or that they had to be educated a certain way that would limit their prospects in a language that was only spoken in the white south of the continent.
It’s the same insularity that allows us (and the world) to ignore the that one million people were slain in 100 days in Rwanda at the same time we were emerging from our storm into the rainbow, starting on April 6 and ending in mid July 1994. That’s the reality of what awaited us. That was our race war.
Except it wasn’t, because Mandela wouldn’t let it happen.
I’ve often wondered what made him so special, why he’s been lionised and commercialised to the unparalleled extent that he has been – and why his death in December 2013, even though we’d all been preparing for it for years, still took us by surprise and left us feeling so bereft.
It wasn’t simply because he was in jail for his beliefs, laudable though they were.
Robert Mugabe was in jail for 10 years (and then spent almost 40 reducing his country to ruins); in fact just about every African leader of a freedom struggle was imprisoned at one stage or another by the colonial authorities.
Mandela was jailed for longer than all of them, but the key thing is how he behaved when he got out: he didn’t want revenge.
On the contrary, he had an ideal to build a new nation; but more than that, for a man who had been so deprived of creature comforts, he was almost anti materialistic, living a personal life that bordered on ascetism.
He gave away things; he didn’t take. He gave away part of his salary to start a children’s fund, he gave away his time, he gave away his right to hate. In turn, he received. The world opened its wallet, doors were opened in capitals across the globe. He was revered.
The contrast could not be starker today. What promised to be a Garden of Eden, instead often looks more like Orwell’s Animal Farm and that’s without reading the newspapers.
Self-enrichment, greed and hatred have displaced selflessness, love, ubuntu and the greater lived belief of the motto of South Africa’s coat of arms: Diverse People Unite.
In this third decade of democracy we’ve developed new words to replace disparaged concepts like Rainbow Nation, Masakhane, ayoba and Ke Nako; now we’ve got tenderpreneurs, fire pools, blessers and Penny Sparrow.
On Monday, let’s roll up our sleeves and do something for others; not for reward or honour, but because if ever there was a need for a Mandela Day to pay homage to the man and remind ourselves of what we are squandering, then July 18, 2016 is it.
EVERY year on July 18, there is a large-scale call to action from all corners of South Africa to do good. Its origin is that in 2009, the UN General Assembly launched a day in recognition of Nelson Mandela.
According to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, it was inspired by a call the statesman had made a year earlier, for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices. He’d said: “It is in your hands now.”
So this was designed to be more than a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It was to become a global movement to honour his life’s work and action – to change the world for the better.
There is also a set of prescribed ethics that those participating in the day should adhere to, the main one being that the action which a company, group of people or individuals want to do for the day, should be of benefit to someone else.
When this day of the year comes around, we are encouraged consistently to think less of ourselves and to dedicate at least 67 minutes of our time doing good for those less fortunate than we.
On paper, this is a wonderful concept: one where we all come together, and help out in soup kitchens, repaint schools, give clothes to the less fortunate or even spend an hour helping out at an orphanage in any way we can.
My problem with this is that it’s one hour of one day in a year. After we have completed our Mandela Day consciousness-raising, what happens to those people?
It’s become a contest of sorts, a way to show that you care. You’re going to take selfies for Instagram and Twitter, and your company will write a piece about the wonderful work you did for their website.
But there is no follow-through in most cases. After we have posted images on our social media platforms and our companies upon websites, we go back to our lives as if nothing happened.
If we can be these giving, caring, loving people for one day of the year, why can’t we be that most times in the year? Why can’t we make it a more frequent effort? Maybe visit that school you adopted for Mandela Day more regularly to find out how else you can help out once the hype of the day has died down.
I grew up in a home with people who work for non-governmental humanitarian organisations, so voluntarism to me is not a big deal. I remember asking my mother a year ago what she was doing for Mandela Day and I will never forget her answer:
“Nothing. Because I work for a charity organisation and for me, every day is Mandela Day.”
I am of the opinion that if people
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like my mother and the many others who work for these organisations can do it, so can we.
Even though we won’t perhaps, like them, be doing it every day, we can at least dedicate more time to these acts of kindness.
I say “we”, because I myself am a work-in-progress in this regard. And I am making more of an effort, in my personal capacity, to help others beyond Mandela Day and its hype. I want to seriously see and be a part of a community where every day is a Mandela Day.
Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in South African, African and world politics. But not everyone views him – and his legacy – in the same way.