By the time you read this, most politicians, business leaders and many others in corporate South Africa would have ticked off on their to-do list: do good for Mandela Day.
Unfortunately, and as sad as it is to admit, this is what has happened to the legacy of one of the greatest South Africans who have lived. It has been reduced, in many cases, to 67 minutes one day a year when people with money and influence break from their normal routine to help those who are less fortunate.
They do this, not in privacy and not anonymously, but with cameras clicking and recording as if they did good without anyone seeing it on TV, in the newspapers or on social media, it would not count.
Their public relations people have been working overtime this week to show us how their principals have shown compassion for those who have less than them, for 67 minutes, give or take a few minutes more or less. But what happened before? What happens afterwards?
This year, of course, most people have done slightly more than the “required” 67 minutes because there have been many activities celebrating what would have been Madiba’s 100th birthday.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to people doing good and I am glad that many poor people have benefited from the benevolence shown this week.
I am not knocking those who quietly and out of the spotlight do good, not only on Mandela Day, but throughout the year.
I am trying to promote the willingness to do good continuously and out of the glare of the media because this is what Madiba stood for.
Doing good must become part of our DNA. We should not have to be reminded on special days that we should do something for those in need and we should not do it only if we are going to be acknowledged for doing good.
Doing good should be about more than a picture moment or a hashtag. Madiba never wanted acknowledgement. He was committed to changing South Africa for the better in line with the vision of the ANC, of which he was a humble servant. He realised it was important for South Africa’s future to create an environment in which all of its people would be able to prosper.
The unfortunate thing is some people have interpreted this to mean that only some people are supposed to prosper in South Africa, as has happened since we became a democracy, which is not much different from to what happened before.
A famous statement by a Struggle hero comes to mind here: “We never struggled to be poor.” It is true that we never struggled to be poor, but we also did not struggle to be stinking rich. We struggled to uplift the majority of people in this country, who happen to be poor. More than 24 years into democracy, most of these people have remained poor and still live in apartheid-created townships without access to decent living conditions.
One of Madiba’s traits was his humility. He never thought he was special and he never wanted to be treated in a special way. As many people reflected on their interactions with him this week, the one story that stood out was how he would be invited for dinner and always insisted that everyone in his party should be fed. Often people would only think about the VIP they invited and forget that there are other people in his party whose needs also need to be considered.
I always struggle to answer when people ask me what I did on Mandela Day because living Mandela’s values has never been about an event for me. It has always been about embracing and internalising the many lessons that we can learn from his life. I would like to think every day is a Mandela Day.
It always makes me uncomfortable to think about the woman abuser who decides not to beat up his wife for 67 minutes on Mandela Day; the corrupt politician who decides not to accept bribes during that time; the criminal who decides in honour of Madiba not to rob anyone on this special day or the employer who lets his domestic worker eat at the same table as his family on Mandela Day when she has to eat in a back room or outside, all by herself, on other days.
We should all try to live according to Madiba’s values all the time but it is not easy. Madiba was someone special and most of us are not. We struggle to do what came naturally to him.
We need to embrace all his values, not only some of them and need to embrace them all the time, not just some of the time and definitely not only for 67 minutes one day a year.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 21 July 2018)