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

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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

‘My prob­lem with

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.

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