Editorial: Madiba and his lessons

2018-07-15 17:03

Wednesday marks 100 years since the birth of arguably South Africa’s greatest son, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

It is the perfect moment for South Africans to take stock of who we are and ask ourselves if we still embody the best of what he stood for.

Mandela spent 27 years of his life behind bars to free South Africa from apartheid. He sacrificed his youth, his family and a thriving career as a lawyer for this country.

And he was not prepared to end there – he declared publicly that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for our freedom.

What the world came to respect him for was that, after his release, he held no rancour for his jailers. It was a lesson he sought to impart to the rest of us, but which many have struggled to learn.

Mandela prevented the country from falling into a racial war, and spent most of his time pushing back raw emotions from all sides and reaching out to those who disliked or distrusted him.

To this day, we remain fickle and it takes little provocation for the races to retreat into their comfortable cocoons and point fingers.

Some of it is no accident; it is deliberately fuelled by politicians who seek to benefit from the polarisation.

From AfriForum denying the atrocities of apartheid and the Economic Freedom Fighters singling out Indians for criticism, to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille extolling the virtues of colonialism and former president Jacob Zuma retreating to a racial and ethnic laager as he faced a humiliating exit from office, we have been feeding the beast of hate and distrust.

If we stay on this trajectory, we will be betraying Madiba’s memory by bequeathing a disappointing legacy to future generations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has come into office with the promise to end corruption and foster a new spirit, where everyone contributes to improving this country.

It sounds well intentioned, but the test will be whether he actually enforces his promises among those working around him.

A remarkable quality about Mandela was that he was no populist. He stood firm on principle and was not afraid to be disliked or called names by critics.

As Ramaphosa deals with the sensitive issue of land, he might reflect on what Mandela taught us and draw from those lessons.

Ultimately, he will not please everyone, but the correct decisions need to be made.

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July 14 2019