We have an ailing public health system that provides the worst kind of service to the sick and elderly, a crumbling education system that sees thousands of children fall through the cracks every year and the masses remain living in squalor nearly two decades into South Africa’s hard-won democracy. Is this something that Tata Madiba is proud of after giving 67 years of his life for a better South Africa for all?
All this hype about giving 67 minutes of your time to charity in honour of former President Nelson Mandela irritates me to the core. Being part of the struggle and quashing the apartheid regime is a victory that young people like me would probably never fully comprehend and appreciate like those who were directly affected at the time would. I only heard about what life was like under PW Botha and Marais Viljoen. But today I see how the same people and their offspring continue to suffer, a future with possibilities a distance away.
The state of our nation is not any better now than it was during apartheid, save for the riddance of the “dom pas”. While the Group Areas Act no longer exists, people are still being evicted and deprived of their constitutional right to housing. While people of all races are now able to work anywhere they please, jobs have become a rare commodity. And while there is allowance for racial integration in schools, the quality of education has dwindled dramatically and learners in impoverished communities are taught in dilapidated facilities. Is this what Mandela fought for for 67 years?
It boggles the mind how blindly people idolise another human being. Mandela sacrificed a lot to free South Africa of racial oppression, yes, and for that I am eternally grateful. But he was NOT the only one. There were lots of other people who risked their lives and who spent many years in jail and in exile. Children are growing up thinking Mandela single-handedly fought against apartheid. They all know who he is, many of them do not know that Ahmed Kathrada spent 26 years in jail. That’s nearly as much time as Mandela.
Do the young minds know that Denis Goldberg – a white apartheid activist – spent 22 years in jail? What about Govan Mbeki, the father of former President Thabo Mbeki? He, too, spent more than two decades incarcerated, fighting for racial equality. Their service to South Africans also extended beyond their time in prison.
Then we also have the leading women of South Africa who were the pillars of strength in their family and simultaneously for the rest of the nation. Albertina Sisulu was one of them, and her life was only celebrated after she had died.
So why is it that we decide to only celebrate the life of one man while he is alive and we forget about the rest until the day they die? The Mandela Day campaign encourages South Africans to do good and to give to those in need. But I don’t see why people only take this call to be generous seriously because they are told to do so in the name of another human being. We should aspire to do good our entire life long because we want to do it out of the goodness of our hearts and (for the religious ones out there) to please our Maker.
This article originally appeared here.