100 years and beyond: the legacy lives on…
As we celebrate the centenary of our beloved Madiba’s birth, we recall the words he uttered in 1994: “Our definition of the freedom of the individual must be instructed by the fundamental objective to restore the human dignity of each and every South Afri
These were the words of Nelson Mandela in his first State of the Nation address following his inauguration as SA’s first democratically elected President. It’s probably the most apt and succinct summation of the ideals for which he lived and, as he famously declared at his trial, for which he was prepared to die. The centenary of his birth is an ideal opportunity to reflect on his legacy and the road we’ve travelled in achieving his ideals. The occasion calls for national introspection and stock-taking.
One of those charged with preserving Madiba’s legacy is President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was not only Madiba’s comrade, but also enjoyed a significant personal relationship with him.
“Madiba was a colossus, one of the most gigantic figures in modern history. He had the ability to rise to the challenge of leading the people of our country, black and white, out of the quagmire of oppression. He had a clear vision, within the framework of his organisation’s strategic objectives of bringing an end to the nightmare of apartheid. For that, Madiba will forever be remembered. All of us, as South Africans, are living his legacy and also living in the shadow of what he bequeathed to the people of this country. We must celebrate his bravery, selflessness, total commitment and courage in leading from the
front while taking his people along with him,” reflects Ramaphosa.
A lot has been said and written about Ramaphosa’s relationship with Mandela. Legend has it that he was in fact Madiba’s preferred choice to succeed him as President. It’s a subject the President won’t be drawn on, but – listening to him talking about the great man – his profound respect and admiration for Mandela are beyond doubt. “For me, Madiba will forever remain the standard – the person I want to emulate,” he says. “He’ll forever be the type of person I aspire to be too. I believe we should all seek to be like him. However, we should also acknowledge when we fall short and recognise when we’re not being as honest as Madiba was. He was the great standard-bearer and a role model par excellence. We’re fortunate to have had a person of his calibre walking the streets of our cities and the paths of our villages.”
“IT’S EASY TO THROW AROUND WORDS LIKE ‘SELL-OUT’ FROM THE COMFORT OF AN ARMCHAIR. WE HAVE TO REJECT SUCH REVISIONISM.”
While Mandela inspired generations of young activists around the world, he was always quick to point out that he was a product of his own movement and the great leaders of the ANC who came before him. “I see myself in that vein,” says Ramaphosa. “I’m also a product of this long line of leaders. I drew inspiration from Madiba in wanting to serve my country at the highest level. I want to emulate his ability to inspire and galvanise the nation. It’s by no means an easy feat, but it’s a standard worth aspiring to.”
For all the gains we’ve made as a democratic nation, there remains a disproportionate number of citizens of SA who haven’t received a cut of the post-1994 dividends. For the vast majority, freedom remains an abstraction – a dream yet to be fulfilled. The violent protests against poor service delivery which have become all too common around the country are evidence of growing anger. Ramaphosa points out that Madiba himself acknowledged that the attainment of universal franchise was only a launching pad to the next phase of the struggle. “In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Madiba wrote of the many hills he had to climb and how, on reaching the top of one of them, he couldn’t allow himself to linger. He couldn’t admire the view of a new democratic SA below because he knew there were still many more hills left to climb,” explains the President. “Madiba knew that what we’d achieved in 1994 was only a breakthrough. It wasn’t the total liberation and emancipation of the oppressed masses of SA. And that’s how his movement characterised that moment. It was what’s described in military terms as a ‘beachhead’: we’d just landed on the beach. There’s still much work to be done as we venture into the hinterland of the new SA.”
The growing disaffection among certain sectors of our population has provided fertile ground for a new narrative about Mandela’s legacy to take root – one that seeks to lay all the country’s woes squarely at Mandela’s door. Branding him and his generation as “sell-outs” has seemingly become acceptable among the “woke” generation. These latter-day revolutionaries charge that the 1994 settlement betrayed black people while protecting the ill-gotten gains of white South Africans.
“We must be wary of these armchair revolutionaries who’ve now become the most critical analysts of the revolution, despite them never having actually endured the hardships and dangers that came with waging the struggle. It’s easy to throw around words like ‘sell-out’ from the comfort of an armchair. We have to reject such revisionism. We dismiss such ignorance because we have a better appreciation of what Madiba’s strategic objective was. That strategic objective, which was deeply steeped in the national democratic revolution, was to lead SA to freedom and introduce democracy in our country. Madiba delivered that,” asserts Ramaphosa.
“Liberation was never meant to be a one-day event. Some people think the struggle came to an end on 27 April 1994. In fact, that was just the beginning of a
new one. Madiba carried it on through his one term as President before handing the reins to Thabo Mbeki to take the struggle forward.”
“The cause of women’s emancipation is part of our national struggle against outdated practices and prejudices. It’s a struggle that demands equal effort from men and women alike.” – Nelson Mandela
If the quest for economic freedom is the next phase of our struggle for liberation, the fight for the liberation of women certainly presents the next frontier. This year alone, South Africans have been confronted with horrifying incidents of gender-based violence. Some of the offenders have been high-profile personalities, including a former Deputy Minister of Education who was convicted of assaulting three women at a nightclub in Johannesburg. It was Madiba who said: “Freedom can’t be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” It was a cause he championed – and it’s one fully embraced by Ramaphosa too.
“I’m an ardent advocate and supporter of women’s rights,” he says. “Women remain a section of our population who are still oppressed and marginalised. They still get a raw deal in the workplace, where they continue to earn less than men performing the same or similar work. They suffer because they’re women and black women, in particular, also suffer because of their race. Our task as men is to ensure that we promote the interests of women and fight the scourge of physical and sexual abuse. We must pick up the flag and rally behind this cause. Should we fail to do this, our society will be impoverished. We can only realise our full potential as a nation when women take their place as full citizens, enjoying the same rights as men.”
“In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education… But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.” – Long Walk to Freedom
Freedom ushered in the prospect of a better life and infinite possibilities. Many South Africans for whom daily life had been about toil and struggle were suddenly presented with a realistic shot at prosperity. Now, however, our glorious victory over apartheid has become increasingly sullied by cynicism. A culture of acquisitiveness and greed is fast replacing the noble ideals of selflessness and service espoused by Nelson Mandela. The need to feed and sustain a fickle lifestyle has spawned a degenerative disease that threatens the very fabric of our society. Corruption is arguably the single biggest threat facing our nation since the advent of democracy. It’s a millstone that weighs heavily around the neck of President Ramaphosa, but it’s a challenge he’s vowed to tackle head-on.
“Corruption steals from our people. Corruption militates against their interests. When people steal money, they’re stealing out of the mouths of our people. This is money that should be going towards building houses, hospitals and roads for our people. That’s why we must fight corruption at every turn and rid ourselves of this disease that’s spread throughout our country. I am determined that in my Presidency, I’ll fight corruption. I’ll ensure that those who steal are dealt with seriously and severely. Our people abhor corruption and are fully awake to its manifestations. Therefore our task is to uphold clean governance and ensure that public representatives, civil servants and, indeed, the private sector operate free of corruption.
“We must constantly aspire to be the country for which Nelson Mandela lived and died: a
South Africa in which there’s accountability, responsibility and honesty, and in which there’s no room for impunity.”