Mandela Day: We Have It All So So Wrong

2015-07-15 19:17

Let's talk about the farce that is Mandela Day for a bit.

President Mandela dedicated his life to the radical transformation of the status quo. As a young lad growing up in the royal family in rural Eastern Cape, there were so many things that he could have focused his attention on.

But he identified, from a tender age, that there was something fundamentally wrong with the system he found himself in. He had a vision and an idea of how things should be. He looked around and saw that there's something genuinely and horrendously twisted with life as he saw it. And so, he worked tirelessly, almost to the death, to ensure that his dream becomes a reality. Fast-forward a generation or four later, we have Nelson Mandela International Day which is a day set aside to allow people across the world to remember Nelson Mandela's legacy. And we couldn't be further from his true legacy.

Mandela Day is nothing but a masquerade that does nothing to even remotely address the status quo. It turns our attention away from radically and committedly fighting ills that plague our generation and reduces true activism to odd jobs that last all of a paltry 67 minutes. (All the movies I've ever watched in life have each lasted longer than 67 minutes.)

It's not that we don't have fundamental issues to deal with in our country. We actually do. We have an economy that is still firmly in the control of the same group of people who had it way back when Mandela was born. This makes it hard for the majority of the people today to move forward and create space for themselves in this classist economy. And so, crime escalates, diseases flourish and the standard of life declines. Of course, other problems worsen the state of affairs in our society. Indeed, corruption, cronyism and poor and inefficient delivery of services are another blow (in addition to being excluded from the mainstream economy) that the masses have to sustain.

These are the things a young Mandela would identify and do something about.

In order to truly gauge his legacy, we need to consider what a modern-day Mandela would do.  If Mandela was born in 1994, he would be leading fellow young people in a fight against the fundamental issues that demand society's attention. He would do so in a radical, fearless but tactful and wise way. He would educate himself and take time to learn about the risks inherent in his campaign. He would be in the company of fellow thinkers and activists. And then he would take the country by storm.

Not this thing that we do. How insulting is it to dedicate 67 minutes a year and call that a Mandela Legacy? And the very things that we'll be doing in those 67 minutes are hardly fundamental. You'll probably fix a window here and someone else will paint a primary school there and another will start a new garden in an orphanage somewhere there. Granted, these things are good and nice and there's absolutely no debate about that.

But let's be honest; it's bad enough that we, as a society, see it okay to spend so little time once a year doing good, but to call that a Mandela Legacy is a spit in the face of a true activist and world-changer.

But what must be done? Let's take a leaf from Mandela-like activists around us who are challenging the system head on. For example, I know a group of young people who dedicate their time daily in the fight for a free Palestine. I also know a group of young people of the #RhodesMustFall movement who put their studies on the line fighting for transformation at their university so that one day the younger generation doesn't have to suffer the same racism they encounter on a daily basis. These are struggles a Mandela would be involved in. He'd do the other stuff we're going to be doing during Mandela Day, like weeding the garden at the nearby clinic, on a regular basis and wouldn't even take pictures and post them online.

Some will argue that 67 minutes is better than nothing. But compared to the greatness of Mandela we all extol, it is nothing. By all means go ahead and fix the window-pane at a nearby church, but bear in mind that that's not a true reflection of Mandela's heritage.

We've missed a chance to raise little Mandelas. Instead, we have weakened his legacy and made it into this empty and meaningless PR campaign that has absolutely nothing to do with President Nelson Mandela, what he stood for or what he believed in.

This article originally appeared on SABC Online on 10 July 2015. It has since been edited.

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