Madiba took us to the peak of free­dom, yet there are many hills still to climb

Sunday Times - - Opinion -

Nel­son Man­dela con­cluded his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Long Walk to Free­dom, with a re­mark that was as telling about his own life as it was pre­scient in re­spect of the coun­try he be­queathed to us at his death in De­cem­ber 2013. He wrote: “I have walked that long road to free­dom. I have tried not to fal­ter; I have made mis­steps along the way. But I have dis­cov­ered the se­cret that af­ter climb­ing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a mo­ment here to rest, to steal a view of the glo­ri­ous vista that sur­rounds me, to look back on the dis­tance I have come. But I can only rest for a mo­ment, for with free­dom comes re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Phrase for phrase, the quote is redo­lent of the hope and the dan­gers that faced and con­tinue to face a demo­cratic South Africa emerg­ing from years of colo­nial and apartheid op­pres­sion.

He said he dared not linger, and as a coun­try we must ask whether we have “lin­gered” too long, savour­ing over­long the “glo­ri­ous vista” that comes with hav­ing reached one sum­mit, while for­get­ting that our long walk as a na­tion has not yet ended.

He warned that with free­dom came re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and as a na­tion per­haps we have en­joyed the free­doms with­out fully ap­pre­ci­at­ing and em­brac­ing the du­ties en­trusted to us by a con­sti­tu­tion that also neatly out­lines the full scope of those hard-won free­doms.

If April 1994 brought us fi­nally to the sum­mit of one hill, it should also have af­forded us a view of the many hills that yet lay ahead, prompt­ing many of us to ask the ques­tion: what is the point of free­dom when so many are still en­slaved by poverty and hunger? Why pro­claim to all our lib­erty when so many of us still live in the chains im­posed by a poor ed­u­ca­tion and di­min­ished life op­por­tu­ni­ties?

In cast­ing about for scape­goats to ex­plain our plight, some take refuge in blam­ing Man­dela, go­ing so far as to call him a sell­out. But we have only our­selves to blame.

This week we cel­e­brate the cen­te­nary of Man­dela’s birth on July 18 1918. On our pages to­day we ex­am­ine

Man­dela’s life and his legacy. This week, too, for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama will de­liver the Nel­son

Man­dela An­nual Lec­ture, and or­di­nary South Africans will do their bit for those less for­tu­nate, with their

67 min­utes for Man­dela.

It is right that we should cel­e­brate Man­dela’s life. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the metaphor of hills still to climb is espe­cially rel­e­vant as we look back on the ru­inous years of the pres­i­dency of Ja­cob Zuma, which was as rad­i­cal a de­par­ture from the tenets of Man­dela’s po­lit­i­cal ideals as is pos­si­ble.

Af­ter the new South Africa’s promis­ing start in 1994, helped by a global eco­nomic boom that lifted all boats on its tide and saw the rapid ex­pan­sion of a black mid­dle class dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Thabo Mbeki, the Zuma years that fol­lowed shifted the econ­omy into re­verse gear, as­sisted — it must be con­ceded — by the global re­ces­sion of 2008, which crip­pled high hopes of a bet­ter fu­ture for all. At the same time, cor­rup­tion flour­ished and our state-owned en­ter­prises were looted by the Gup­tas in ca­hoots with Zuma and his min­ions.

Some may ar­gue that the rot set in un­der Mbeki, who will be best re­mem­bered for his chilly in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism and calami­tous Aids poli­cies.

In the pres­i­dency of Cyril Ramaphosa, it­self a sur­prise given how as­sid­u­ously Zuma tried to ce­ment his aw­ful legacy in the per­son of his for­mer wife Nkosazana DlaminiZuma, South Africa has been given an­other, if un­de­served, chance to right the ship, and to re­turn to the prin­ci­ples Man­dela fought for all his life and for which, if needs be, he was pre­pared to die. Let us hon­our Man­dela by walk­ing in his foot­steps and at­tempt­ing to em­u­late his ex­am­ple. As in­di­vid­u­als. As a na­tion.

South Africa has been given an­other, if un­de­served, chance

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.