Celebrating Madiba’s vision of unity
This opinion piece was published in the Sunday Independent on July 21 2013
Happy Birthday Madiba. I could almost feel the whole country breathe a collective great sigh of relief – and joy – as Nelson Mandela reached his landmark 95th birthday on Thursday.
How did you celebrate Mandela Day? What did you do for your 67 minutes?
I spent Thursday lunchtime as part of a human chain along the Klipfontein Road in Cape Town. This runs from just under Table Mountain, eastwards across the Cape Flats. In the bad old days it was like a thread, on which sat three separate beads, of white Rondebosch, coloured Athlone, and black Gugulethu. Three different communities, each at a distinct distance from one another.
On Mandela Day, Klipfontein Road became something else – an artery that connects our lives with our neighbours, as we stood together, hand in hand and arm in arm, united in our diversity. Waving our South African flags and singing, despite the slight rain, we made our stand as a way of pledging to break down the old divisions and build up a new connectedness that transcends the gulfs of the past.
When the idea was first put to me, I admit that I thought twice. Was this just “gesture politics”, and a soft way out of spending my 67 minutes on more tangible acts of service? But on reflection, I came to a different conclusion. On Mandela Day we are supposed to take some action that will help change the world, in ways that honour Nelson Mandela’s own example in his life of service for the good of the nation and its people. And what drove Madiba’s servant heart was his dream of a united, democratic, non-racial, South Africa. We must never lose this vision. If we can share his perspective, his motivation, then we can each walk our own journeys, however long, towards freedom, and encourage others along the way.
If we don’t pursue his dream, and uphold the values of the constitution, we risk undermining all our good deeds and acts of service. For we need to be wary of “sticking plaster” charity that provides superficial panaceas without tackling the underlying issues on which our problems thrive.
Our greatest priority still remains overcoming divisions of economic class and race and community, and forging a greater sense of common life – even of shared vulnerability to the fate that awaits us all if we fail to create a single nation. Standing together affirmed our belief in the tangible hope of newness of life – a hope shared by people of all faiths and of none. There truly was a sense of celebration as we held hands along Klipfontein Road.
And I was delighted that all around the country, from country towns to university campuses, others also formed human chains and committed to a common future. We all need to keep on investing in our future in this way, and stick with it for the long haul. There are few quick fixes for the profound wounds of the past – but courage to keep on persevering, and not to lose heart, just as Nelson Mandela stuck to his own principles, will help us get there.
Even if I have to make my apologies for encouraging children out of their classrooms, I was particularly glad that schools along the road brought their pupils to join our human chain. For I hope that they will have learnt this deeper lesson of directing their lives towards the values, now enshrined in our constitution, for which Madiba strove. Madiba himself said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”, and it is so important that our younger generations are equipped with the ethical foundations, as well as the factual knowledge, that they will need for taking our country into a better future.
Madiba’s life reflected the lasting legacy of his own solid education at Healdtown, the Methodist-established college. Another exemplary student of those excellent historic mission schools is Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, our country’s only woman deputy president, and recently appointed executive director for UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women. She too has followed Madiba’s footsteps in demonstrating what it means to serve others and dedicating one’s life to making a positive contribution within the world.
Following his example in our own lives is surely the best way to show our love and appreciation of Madiba, especially now in his frailty. May he know that all he has stood for, all he has done, will not be wasted or forgotten. Let us commit ourselves to making his vision our own, as we continue to pray for him, for his physical comfort, for peace in his soul, and for, in God’s own time, a “perfect end” – and pray also for all who love and care for him.
On Mandela Day we pledged to do this, in the words below. Will you make this your pledge, too?
Mandela Day Pledge at the Human Chain
I, one link in this human chain, pledge to do all I can to build an undivided South Africa, free from poverty as envisioned by Nelson Mandela. I will observe and study his conduct and seek to emulate his actions that have helped to bring peace to our country.
A simple smile, a handshake, kindness, a listening ear, encouragement, spreading hope, giving a helping hand, taking action, not tearing down another – that is the Madiba way.
I reject anything or anyone who sets to demean or divide us and place our focus only on the ugliness that forms part of our lives.
Instead of focusing on ugliness and hatred, I choose to focus on beauty and love.
By doing this, I will have the strength to deal with the difficult challenges that I face to make Madiba’s dream a reality.
I am committed to being the best person I can possibly be. The stronger I am, the more I can help heal my family and my neighbourhood.
I am committed to the values of our constitution, which says that our country belongs to all who live in it. We have in Madiba one of the world’s greatest leaders. It is not always in the life of a people that they are so blessed with inspirational and visionary leadership.
Madiba’s maternal side is Khoisan, the earliest people who lived at the Cape, at least 2000 years ago. His paternal side is Xhosa, whose people intermingled with the khoisan over many centuries.
The merging of these two strong human strands has given us a man who has not flinched in his resolve to set his people free.
I commit to encourage all of those I come into contact with to study and emulate his conduct so that we draw on the positive example he has set for us and never forget that our fragile psyches need nurturing and tenderness to bring healing to this tortured nation.
I am proud of how far we have journeyed on the road to self-determination as a people and will continue always to be inspired by his example.
* Thabo Makgoba is the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.