The Mandela who went to jail was radically different from the one who emerged 27 years later. What the world called the Madiba magic was the outcome of a journey of a freedom fighter and opponent of apartheid, to a leader ready to be a bridge to a negotiated, free South Africa.
The mindset shift he underwent was ironically facilitated by solitary confinement. Solitude forced Mandela to look deep into himself to find the resources to create meaning in the hardship, personal loss and humiliations of imprisonment on Robben Island. He had to travel inwards to get in touch with his spirit.
This inward journey brought him into the embrace of his spiritual lineage and the richness of African heritage. It enabled him to shift his mindset from that of an angry freedom fighter to that of a free citizen ready to shape the future of his country. He transcended his status as a prisoner to become a liberator of his jailors by convincing them to embrace a shared negotiated future. Our country is struggling to complete Mandela’s work of a negotiated political settlement encapsulated in our highly esteemed Constitution.
The gap between the promise of freedom and the lived reality of the majority of citizens 24 years later of poverty, inequality and unemployment, is our failure to follow through with the commitments in the Preamble of our Constitution. We need to complement the political settlement with emotional and socio-economic settlements.
These commitments require us to travel inwards to shift our mindsets from the colour-coded inequitable socio-economic system to a united nation celebrating its diversity. Apartheid mindsets undermine our ability to develop intolerance for the humiliating poverty and inequality that is the daily reality of fellow citizens. We need to create safe spaces in our homes, our education institutions, places of worship and workplaces to have open conversations about the wounds of inferiority and superiority that need healing.
Such conversations would enable us to reimagine our society, identify what needs to change to make it possible for us to shift our mindsets from those of a divided people to mindsets of informed values-based citizens of a proud nation. We would then be ready to be custodians of our democracy able to hold our leaders in both the public and private sectors accountable to shared values and ethics.
The high levels of inequality in our society are simply unsustainable. It makes no sense that 10% of the population can own 90%-95% of all wealth in our constitutional democracy. There should not only be moral concerns about these figures, there are pragmatic reasons to be alarmed too. Research indicates that inequality causes violence in societies where prosperity is divided on racial, religious or regional grounds. A peaceful safe nation can only result from investment in social justice.
The success of other post-conflict regions in the world such as Northern Ireland and the Basque Region in Spain, have lessons for us. Both invested in socio-cultural, indigenous languages, pre-conflict history, and inclusive economic programs to heal the wounds of the past. This would build the self-confidence of those previously marginalised and enable us to share this rich heritage. Self-confidence is essential for identity formation and to forge a common identity as a nation.
We need to make investments in socio-cultural developments to promote indigenous African languages, African history as the cradle of humanity, a significant contributor to literacy, science, technology, architecture, cosmology and bio-medicine. The idea of Western science negates the scientific knowledge that made mumification of the human body possible those many thousand years ago in Egypt. Africa’s contribution to global knowledge is critical to inoculating African people against the arrogance of racist superiority complexes that continue to undermine their intellectual and socio-economic performance.
Our education system needs to raise standards and norms of performance in our schools to reflect higher levels of expectations of our children. Children and young people rise to the level of expectations we have of them, and our support to encourage them. All human beings do. Sadtu teachers are also human and would respond positively to high expectations by our government that is supposed to hold them accountable.
Imagine what our country would look like if all young people were enrolled in effective programs to prepare them for the work place as informed, values-based citizens! President Ramaphosa’s championing of the Youth Employment System (YES) deserves support. We need to create opportunities in our enterprises to expose the nearly nine million unemployed young people to the world of work and rekindle hope in a future they can be proud of. YES needs well-structured, technically sound programs that also include the software of values based civic education, African history, culture and languages to produce well-rounded people.
Imagine giving all the Not in Education, Employment and Training (NEETs) young people a second chance education and training opportunity with an emphasis on practical trades such as carpentry, plumbing, water and sanitation services, pavement and brick laying. These skills are sorely needed for infrastructure development and maintenance in both urban and rural areas where poor people live. Collaborative efforts between the government, the private sector and civil society are essential to realise this untapped energy source.
Our country’s prosperity depends on transforming our economy to enhance the contributions of all citizens, especially women. An inclusive economy requires foundations of redress of the unjust land and property regimes of the past that persist to date. Property ownership is the foundation of capital accumulation. Imagine every township and inner city dweller owning their home however small, as a piece of real estate they can leverage to raise capital to invest in enterprises they can establish to meet real needs of their communities.
A better 100th birthday present for Madiba than an inclusive, prosperous socio-economic system in a nation at peace with itself, one cannot imagine. What stops us from honouring him in this way?
- Dr Mamphela Ramphele is a South African politician, activist against apartheid, medical doctor, academic and businesswoman. She was a partner of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, with whom she had two children