Our obsession with the ANC is keeping us from engaging about what is really important. We fail deliberately in rescuing the public dialogue, writes Ralph Mathekga.
Nelson Mandela, assisted by his PA, Zelda le Grange at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg. 2007. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive)
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Mandela reframed the binary of victors and victims by towering emotionally and morally over his captors and accusers, writes Chris Jones.
Mandela International Day, celebrated annually on July 18, gives people right
across the globe the opportunity to celebrate Mandela's life, and to recognise
their individual power to make an imprint and to change the world around them.
recently attended a Bishop Lavis Community Partnership Day, where the focus was
on sustainable partnerships for development. At the end of the proceedings, in
a closing word, Professor Jimmy Volmink, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health
Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU), referred to Bryan Stevenson, American
lawyer and social justice activist, who lays out four ways to fight for justice
said, to be a change agent one needs to get proximate.
Volmink rephrased this to "immerse", meaning that we have to get
closer to and become deeply involved in the issues we are trying to address and
the people we are trying to empower. Stevenson says that there is "power
second way to fight for justice, is to change the narratives that sustain unjust practices and policies, especially
the false narratives that are sometimes created to justify racial differences
and (white) supremacy.
to Volmink, Stevenson's third solution is to stay hopeful, because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Without hope
and courage, one cannot be a change agent.
Volmink asked the audience, in the words of Stevenson, to make conscious
decisions to do uncomfortable things.
These four characteristics of being a change agent, instinctively made me think
of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, whose
life was characterised
by these four aspects.
Mandela suffered behind bars, his message became louder and louder. With all
the sacrifices he made, he opened the struggle for justice, peace and
Mandela reframed the binary of victors and victims by towering
emotionally and morally over his captors and accusers. Although he was imprisoned
for his political beliefs by white captors, he actually "imprisoned his
white guards by the sheer force of his moral authority and his political cause",
says public intellectual and education expert Prof Jonathan Jansen from SU's
Faculty of Education.
his release, Mandela drew with principled leadership and authority not only
black South Africans, but also white and even conservative Afrikaners to him.
The same people who put him in prison for 27 years, embraced him, often without
recall a specific part of a masterful and assertive speech he prepared for
students on the campus of the University of Pretoria in 1991, but could not
deliver on that day because of disruptions caused by some of the students: "Surely
you, the Afrikaner, who fought for your freedom from British imperialism, would
lose all respect for the African people and the Blacks in general if we just
meekly accepted the denial of our rights?" The entire speech is available
on the South African History Online webpage.
know that the miracle of our transition was not only the work of Mandela, but
he was not afraid of being a catalyst for change. He influenced so many lives
and inspired countless people along the way.
knew how to forgive, but simultaneously to never forget his troubled past,
because, through precisely this, one is helped to understand, learn, and
reconcile divided peoples. In his own words, to become "a nation at peace
with itself and the world".
American president, Barack Obama, once said that Ubuntu is one word "that
captures Mandela's greatest gift: His recognition that we are all bound
together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to
humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and
caring for those around us … He not only embodied Ubuntu, he taught millions to
find that truth within themselves."
With Mandela no longer among us, what should we do to honour his legacy
and continue the work that he started?
I think a good starting point would be to always remember the role
individual leaders like Mandela and many of his contemporaries played in the
history of our country, but together with this remembrance, to never dishonour
our people by minimalizing their role in their own struggles for freedom and
By not taking ownership of our struggles on an ongoing basis, we shall
be imprisoned all over again, leaving us at the mercy of new ideologies of
domination, manipulation, and dispossession.
Having said this, we must be careful not to re-create Mandela in our own
self-protecting, self-justifying image. Making him the hiding place of our
unfulfilled promises to the poor and weak, and portraying him as the
ever-rising wall behind which we hide the shamelessness of our self-indulgence
and greed, and taking refuge against the growing anger of the destitute and the
wronged as cleric and anti-apartheid activist Dr Allan Boesak once argued.
Off course, we stand upon the shoulders of leaders like Mandela, but the
struggle for good and corrupt-free governance; to contribute to the social and
economic security of citizens; and to secure a free press and an independent,
efficient judiciary, will always belong to us, the people.
Mandela's legacy should give us hope. Too many of us have become despondent,
blaming others and forgetting our own responsibility. We must continue creating
a South Africa worthy of its sacrifices.
In this regard, Leon Wessels, co-writer of our Constitution, makes the
important point: "We all come from a broken past, but we have to build a
future on that past. A better future, not a better past".
- Dr Chris Jones heads the Unit for Moral Leadership in the Faculty of
Theology at Stellenbosch University.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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