By Mwalimu George Ngwane
Today, July 18, 2011 marks the ninety-third birthday of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Happy birthday Madiba. Clearly the Mandela moment is still to fizzle out.
Frail, fragile and discreet, Nelson Mandela's towering presence and aura still invade the privacy of South Africa's life and, by extension, the corridors of global attention.
Yet South Africa has to be robust enough in forging a tapestry of a post-Mandela nation at a time when the ninety-three-year old icon has legitimately withdrawn to the confines of family life.
Nelson Mandela's vision for South Africa was one of racial equality and racial reconciliation. It was also one of social harmony and equal opportunities especially informed by the appalling living conditions of black people, whose future and destiny had been sacrificed on the altar of systemic apartheid.
Seventeen years of black rule have still to record a balance sheet that emboldens the black ghetto squatters' spirit of better life and economic renaissance. We agree with the vocal and exuberant ANC Youth Leader, Julius Malema that the new black political and economic elite needs to connect among themselves and then with the teeming masses that hunger for change.
Granted that 17 years are not enough to overturn decades of predatory racism; granted that democratic development still eludes even countries that are counting 50 years of nominal independence; granted that it often takes many years to "reach the mountain top of our desires after having passed through the shadows of death again and again".
Still there is a case for the leadership to begin to switch off the Mandela moment and address the bread and butter issues that preoccupy the ordinary citizen. Sporadic expressions of xenophobia by black South Africans on 'strangers' are sometimes social constructs caged in regime frustrations.
Frustrations that are welled up against a background of great expectations and legitimate hope; frustrations that are reminiscent of those years when their bodies were shields for whips and their souls targets for bullets; those frustrations are in search of a more creative channel and a more cooperative power dynamics. Hero-cult constitutes an important template in a country's history and its peoples' memory.
It feeds the people with a sense of dignity and integrity, it serves as glue to polarised cleavages and it inspires successive leadership to share within its own community what the South Africans call 'ubuntu'. Without role models like Um Nyobe, Che Guevara, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi, Kwame Nkrumah etc, society would be unable to hold a mirror up to itself.
Hence the relevance of the Mandela myth. But celebrations on the achievements of a hero without resort to the values that he or she lived or died for results in at best plunging volatile groups in their personalised Robben islands or at worst exposing them to an orgy of violent conflicts.
At a time that we all pause on every July 18 to celebrate Mandela Day, it is imperative for the South African leadership to have a paradigm shift from Mandelamania to the deep rooted black grievances that have turned the Black Economic Empowerment policy into a mere Sunday picnic.
At a time that the rainbow nation is still smarting from the highly successful hosting of the 2010 World Cup, issues of basic needs (housing, water, electricity and so on), that are common assets of industrialised nations, need to be on the front burner of the ANC Government service delivery policy.
Mandela's "no black nor white domination" mantra remains a veritable jewel in the crown of South African race relations. Responding to this ideal can be possible, only and only if those who have been the incarnation of systemic victimhood are whipped into a fast-track development queue that transforms their inner conflicts into outer confluences. If the Truth and Reconciliation therapy was a necessary antidote to retributive justice, then, an equitable development practice should be the panacea to social angst.
This is not to undermine the revolutionary benchmarks that the ANC Government has achieved in forging a society of relative freedom. Yet, Mandela always said 'there is no partial freedom'.
At a time that South Africa is marching into International Diplomacy, not as regional pawn, but as a global player, the black masses should show restraint in 'stranger- violence' and weave a web of empathy in the same manner these 'strangers' did to them during those painful years of physical and psychological exile.
Nelson Mandela's short memory of hate is, indeed, a battle cry for Africans and the Diaspora to synergise if they have to avoid being on the fringes of glocalisation. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu 'not every country has a Mandela, we have been richly blessed in him'.
Yes, South Africa is more than blessed to have given birth to a Mandela whose long walk to freedom has, in turn, given the world a human face. Yet, one may argue that the nation has counted this blessing long enough.
It is time she started counting the bounties of this blessing so that, by the time old sage called Nelson Mandela joins Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Robert Sobukwe, Chris Hani, Hector Peterson, Miriam Makeba and Steve Bantu Biko, he shall recite, without regret, the words he proclaimed during his Inaugural Address in Pretoria on May 9, 1994:
" We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society which all South Africans ,both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow at peace with itself and the world".
*Mwalimu George Ngwane is a Senior Chevening Fellow on Conflict Resolution and Contributor to a new book "Century of Change - Symposium on African Unity" (2011). www.gngwane.com