We need a collective long walk to freedom

2012-07-21 11:39

The year is 2018. Nelson Mandela turns 100.

When he turned 94 in 2012, there were mixed reactions in South Africa.

As citizens, we did not know his views about the prevailing conditions in the country.

We learnt about his “probable” thoughts through his spokespeople: the family, the foundation and his struggle comrades.

Notably, as he turned 94, the country was still searching for solutions to the scandalous farce of textbooks not being delivered to schools in Limpopo province.

Nobody seemed to take responsibility. Political and administrative accountability were undermined. Democracy was in disrepute. In the Eastern Cape, Tata’s home province, avoidable problems in the education department had become a norm.

The education crisis and the disunity in the ANC ruined Tata’s happiness when he turned 94.

He gathered strength and convened the leadership of the ANC and government, and chastised them for rendering democracy meaningless to the most vulnerable.

As he wrote in his autobiography, he counselled them that “a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest”.

He told them the quality of our democracy should be judged by how it treats the poor children in Limpopo and Eastern Cape. His closing remarks were “education is the great engine of personal ­development”.

The leadership of the ANC and government were touched by the words of the clearly old but spirited Mandela.

The period 2012-2018 became a defining period for the organisation. They committed to and worked on burying their petty internal differences.

As an explicit commitment to the primacy of education, the government agreed to prescribe Long Walk to Freedom in the curriculum of all secondary schools.

As Mandela turns 100 in 2018, we are beginning to see tangible ­indicators of the rebuilding of South Africa. The book is read in all public and private schools.

All South Africans are beginning to reimagine our collective future as a result of the lessons in the book. For the first time since 1994, there is real social cohesion.

The readers of the book appreciate that the history of our country binds and affects us all, irrespective of background or physical distinction. We all accept that apartheid was an inhumane system we should never again slip into.

We have accepted there are great men and women of all races (one human race) who contributed to the creation of a new South Africa.
Young people have accepted their right to be rebellious. Yet they have also learnt not to mistake their inexperience and lack of knowledge for militancy.

Politicians of all kinds have found that politics is not about conferences, meetings and slogans only, but about the daily lives of ordinary citizens who toil to ­improve their living conditions.

Leaders have learnt that they have a duty to walk ahead of the flock sometimes, confident they are leading their people in the right way. Indeed, leaders have learnt the value of taking decisions out of strategy as opposed to patronage.

The book has taught all of us the value of strategic conversations; of appreciating the virtue of teamwork.

Yes, reading the book has empowered all of us to internalise and live out our inherent ability to contribute to change. All South Africans have learnt that “virtue and generosity will be rewarded in ways that one cannot know”.

Yes, this is my imagined South Africa in 2018. And I do believe that prescribing Long Walk to Freedom, in all official languages, may be exactly what we need in this moment of social turbulence.

I believe in the power of the book to act as a compass that will lead us to a better country.

» Mohale is a member of the Free State ANC Youth League provincial executive committee

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