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