Mandela this, Mandela that...

2012-07-18 11:39

In June/July every year the world goes ‘gaga’ over Mandela with messages of support and an appeal to serve others for 67 minutes, and many, including government, suggest that we should make everyday a Mandela day.

Government could lead here, by making everyday a Mandela day through serving the public as the constitution requires of government to do, not serve self or party interests; this is the legacy of Mandela, a commitment to serve the public.

To some, Mandela is just an ex-convict who became president, and to many he is a symbol of peace, while others regard him as a sell-out. Whatever one thinks of the man, he remains one of the greatest statesmen of our time. If you followed the history of how other countries were transformed into after oppression, you will fully understand how Mandela became the modern day ‘symbol of peace’, and no, I am not suggesting that he be called St Rholihlahla. Think about Congo-Ziare and land grabs in Zimbabwe, transformation is no child’s play and if not well managed, it destroys the very country that is being transformed.

Having spent decades of his life fighting against an oppressive regime, and later more years in prison, not being able to raise your children like any other father does, most of us would find it incredibly difficult to forgive, and perhaps some have yet to do so, but the lesson Mandela has taught us is that, no matter how much pain one suffers, forgiveness liberates both the one who is forgiving and the one being forgiven.

This means that the oppressor does not have to live with guilt but must acknowledge their wrongs, and for the one who was oppressed, it means letting go of the past and start focusing on the future. This has proven to be quite difficult for both sides, many had very different ideas of what the freedom Mandela and many others were fighting for means, some have tasted it, and others died before they could do so, but millions have yet to do so. To understand how things came to be the way they are, one must look at history before making judgements such as calling Mandela a sell-out.

So to understand this, we ought to put things in context. The concept of reconciliation has not been an easy one, it was never easy getting to the negotiation tables so it would have been foolish of anyone to think that everything would be ‘perfect’ after 1994; even during the negotiations there were people against the process but through leadership from civil society, the government of the day, and the political parties involved, a new settlement was reached.

Some criticise this settlement and suggest that it only serves to protect the interests of those who benefited from Apartheid, and would go as far as calling Mandela a sell-out for his reconciliation stance; Sowetan Editor, Mpumelelo Mkhabela pointed out that Mandela should not be blamed for all the ‘mess’ South Africa is in, because Mandela was not alone in the struggle or the negotiations, there were many others involved, and sacrifices had to be made, not for Mandela but for everyone. Mandela once said “you do not go to the negotiation tables if you are not prepared to compromise”

If there were no compromise, where would we be today? Just imagine for one moment that Mandela and the many leaders he was with had not been released from prison, where would our country be? The violence would have continued, more lives lost, infrastructure destroyed as it happens in any war. So it is a grave insult to suggest that Mandela is a traitor when he did not single handily end apartheid but then again his supporters speak of him as though he did, they forget that he wasn’t alone in jail or the only representative of the black majority during the negotiations. If fighting Apartheid was a collective effort, then responsibility for the failures of the new dispensation should also be shared; even if the governing party would not admit that they have failed but opt for the easy option of blaming others.

There are a few elements that made Mandela the brand he was then and in today, first it was the treatment he had received from the Apartheid regime, the house arrests, government watching every step he took, and banning his face from all publications. Political Analyst, Rian Lieth tells a story of how excited he was on the day Mandela was released from prison, as a white young man, he couldn’t wait to see this ‘evil’ man, but was shocked to see an ordinary man smiling and waving at the crowd. This image of Mandela being described as though he was the re-incarnation of Lucifer the fallen angel was not be; instead Rian met a man who only wanted peace.

This was due to his strong conviction to his beliefs, the way he articulated the ideals of the majority, and this made him and anyone around him the target. If you recall that in the past the ANC had very strict leadership requirements for its office bearers, even their constitution required the ANC president to speak the English language well. ANC officials were very skilled individuals; the goal for those who had knowledge to train others, and to take the movement forward. So leaders emerged from all walks of life, Blacks, Whites, Coloured, Indian, even Gay ones, anyone who could contribute was given an opportunity to contribute to the movement.

So how then did Mandela become the ‘face of the revolution’ out of so many? I would only be able to answer this question on a book so let me first learn to write properly. But there are many ideas already from different authors, all that is needed is for one to read and put things in to context. Mandela did choose to be that face, his commitment to serving the public is what made him that. Many leaders before him, some with him at the time, could have been that face. So his commitment to peace, not for some but for all, made him the perfect candidate and threat to the regime.

Second is the ANC branding, the ANC launched a ‘release Mandela’ campaign, why Mandela when there were many other ANC leaders also in jail and many exiled? It’s quite simple, the treason trial had made Mandela seem more like the obvious choice to be the face of the Anti-Apartheid movement, the campaign was not only to get Mandela out of jail but for all the political prisoners just as it happened after his release; more political prisoners were released. Then Mandela going on a worldwide tour thanking anti-apartheid activists for their support, again, reminding us that he was not alone in the fight against the apartheid regime. So for anyone to credit him only for putting an end to Apartheid and ignore the rest is just plain ignorance, and so is blaming him for the many social challenges we still face today.

If you looked at history, you would know that there were a lot of events that led to the negotiation tables, the regime could have carried own with its military force and let the violence go out of control but many lives would have been lost, both Black and White; the settlement was necessary.

And so it is shocking to think that there are people in this country who still have trade racist slurs when our ugly past teaches us that discrimination on any basis is wrong. How do you justify hating another human being for being different?

So the answer to honour not just Mandela’s legacy, but every man and woman who contributed to the fall of the Apartheid regime is very simple and not 67 minutes serving others once a year. It is creating the kind of South Africa the envisaged by those who sacrificed their lives to the attainment of social justice for all. To get an idea of what they wanted South Africa to look like, you just read the Freedom Charter as adopted by the Congress of the People *NOT COPE* in 1955.

Those who wanted an end to the Apartheid regime got together and wrote their ideas of the kind of South Africa they wanted to see, so for South Africa, the only institution with resources and the power to transform South Africa to that vision is the government, this does not mean there is nothing you as an individual or private organisation can do to contribute to this. Simply ask yourself ‘What kind of a society do you want your children to inherit’ and what you can do to create it?

Do you want your child to be hated for being different? Do you want your child to be denied opportunities systematically or otherwise? Would you choose a life of misery and suffering for your child? The reason the government is identified as the perfect agent to lead this transformation is because government is the only institution with legitimate right to use force through legislation, the state lays the foundation, the people build upon that foundation but sadly we have been taught by politicians that government builds everything for mahala.

Before insulting or blaming anyone for the many social problems that we are confronted with, it's always best to get yourself informed, find ways of helping to improve the situation, then complain when you encounter systematic obstacles that can only be solved through legislation; and not simply look at news headlines and start moaning without making attempts to help. That is what Mandela’s legacy is; inspiring people to lead by committing yourself to creating the kind of community you want to live in, that is what Mandela did, he committed himeself to creating the South Africa he wanted to see and so did many freedom fighters. If you want to live in a safe neighbourhood, commit yourself to creating that safe neighbourhood by patrolling the streets with the police even if its once a week.

The choice is yours to make, you can sit in front of a computer reading news and complain about how bad things are, exchange racist insults, or you can get your hands dirty and make things better. If you have ever tried to make things better, you will have learnt that it takes more than just 67 minutes a year to do so.


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