Dr Gwen Ramokgopa – TUT Chancellor;
TUT Council Members;
Prof Lourens van Staden: Vice-Chancellor & Principal;
Dr Thandi Mgwebi – DVC: Research, Innovation & Engagement;
TUT Executive Management;
His Worship, Cllr Stevens Mokgalapa: Executive Mayor: City of Tshwane;
Cllr Christiaan Van Den Heever, Chief Whip of Council: City of Tshwane;
Cllr Aaron Maluleka;
MMC: City of Tshwane;
Professors and Lecturers;
Ladies and Gentlemen and the entire Academic Community;
On the eve of the birthday of the South African revolutionary, President and world icon, an occasion that millions around the world celebrate as Mandela Day, we as South Africans are called to commemorate, remember, re-evaluate and rethink what it means to live and die for one’s beliefs. Like all of us, Mandela is a child of his environment.
So many paid the ultimate price of sacrifice, so many stood side-by-side with Madiba: echoing his beliefs, strengthening each other’s conviction, fuelling the fire of freedom and nurturing the seedling of consciousness. Shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the greatest leaders in the world, we must never forget the ordinary citizens that sacrificed so much to liberate our great nation – the heroes of South Africa and the heroes among our sisters and brothers across the continent.
A great moral and political leader of our time, we immortalize him as an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa, delivered a triumphant victory of freedom and democracy for humankind. In the fight against apartheid, he has been at the centre of one of the most powerful and compelling political dramas the world has ever seen. He has inspired a movement that was not only instrumental in shifting the nation but the global community towards human rights and racial equality.
On Nelson Mandela’s birthday, the 18th, and throughout the month of July, the world embarks on an extensive social upliftment project in the spirit of celebrating and perpetuating the legacy of Nelson Mandela. As a sign of solidarity to future generations to keep Madiba’s flame alive, we embark on a collective mission to change the lives of the most vulnerable and address the challenges that face their communities. This becomes a solemn time to embody the values of the Freedom Charter – to elevate the collective above the individual. A time to reflect, a time to look forward, a time to rekindle the flame of the South Africa we dream of, a time to join the path on the Long Walk to Freedom.
In homage to Tata Nelson Mandela’s humanitarian legacy, we are called to pledge our help and active citizenship for those in need as a symbol of his many years of selfless service. After the progress of Mandela Day, over the elapsed years since our leader’s passing, a challenge that persists at the heart of this social activism is the capacity and strength to stay true to our pledge and to make sure that our good intentions are not simply ‘lip service’ in the month of July, but a genuine impulse that informs our daily decisions and behaviour.
With the threat of the commercialization of an objectified trope of Madiba creeping into our cultural and collective psyche, we find ourselves consuming neo-liberal, modern marketing inventions that create appetizingly sweet, bite-sized canapésfor us to swallow. This saccharine, merchandising consumerism of our proud past and our vivid history will leave us with more than just a toothache.
Each year as we pass through the days of observation such as Mandela Day, Women’s Day, Youth Day and Human Rights Day, we must ask ourselves the question: do we simply browse through calendar days as an anniversary activity, as an external motion? How can we respond to these moments in a way that is embedded in us, in a way that allows us to adopt an authentic philosophy of the values we are celebrating?
Paying ‘lip-service’ to our public holidays and hero’s birthdays together with the commercialization of our struggle history, places strain on our memory and eats away at a rapidly skewing truth.
The mystification of the moments that laid the foundations of Africa’s greatest liberation movement and our profound and complex road to democracy is centred around persistent absences in established historical narratives whereby experiences of decolonial and anti-apartheid struggle have been problematically marginalised. This is a critical weak spot in the formation of a reliable and responsible collective memory for South Africa and leads to misconceptions about the people, places and events that we revere.
The post 1994 construct of a Rainbow Nation carries a seemingly unauthentic promise that today, many younger South Africans consider a betrayal. Critics suggest that Mandela made too many compromises. Now, a quarter of a century into the new era, there is a robust and often chaotic debate about the role and place of the father of our nation.
This is all in order, as long as we remember the words of John Berger, in the introduction to “The Necessity of Art” by Ernst Fischer:
“Our specific points of difference no longer exist because the choices to which they applied no longer exist, nor will they ever exist again in quite the same way.”
The compromises and the choices that had to be made in 1994 related to finding peaceful ways of resolving the stubborn problem of racial oppression. And, therefore avoiding a bloodbath and obliteration of the country.
The symbolism and iconography of Madiba, the Rainbow Nation and the fantasy of the “post-racial” through rose-tinted glasses, serves as a hagiography which is designed to serve a superficial agenda – an impossible way of being that exists beyond and apart from race. This crusade for race to be invisible as a defining feature is a reductive and harmful fantasy for as long as the injustices of the past and accumulated disabilities are not addressed.
This cosmetic approach to history poses a threat to an authentic understanding of our past, an obstruction to a genuine connection with our humanitarian legacy and an omission of honest truths. In addition, without economic redress, there is a growing tension between the turbulence of our post-apartheid nation and a nation that is actively resisting the Mandela-era rhetoric of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Despite our pursuit for certitudes, we construct neatly tied up solutions to create a peripheral and shallow history. History is important because it gives us context, whereas if it is treated superficially, it leaves little hope for the project of social cohesion.
As our great poet, Professor Keorapetse Kgositsile, writes:
“Pastpresentfuture is always now.”
To learn the lessons of our past, to understand and confront challenges of our present and to have an honest and open dialogue about our collective future, we need to rescue Madiba from sainthood and demystify those messianic constructs that cloud our vision and allow us to dip-in and dip-out of days such as Mandela Day. We need to humanise what it means to struggle.
Nelson Mandela was a rebel of his time – an insurgent against dominance and oppressive institutions. Someone who rebels and initiates an armed struggle cannot be considered a saint.
In his own words, Madiba said:
“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.’”
It is a lack of deep historic engagement and the absence of dialogue around our humanitarian heritage that allows for commercial objectification of our legacy. This generates duplicity and tokenism, and robs us of our inheritance: the social values that were fought and died for, that lay the foundation of our Constitution. Values and ethics that shine a light in the darkest of times, that guide us when we struggle to find good leadership. Values that we uphold in the knowledge that only together and only through unity, can we prosper.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior writes:
“When we were young our hearts were filled with fire – and as life is action and passion, a man must share in the actions and passions of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived at all.”
When the recent student protests began on South Africa’s university campuses, young people shared in the actions and passions of their time.
The issues of their time were and still are: the struggle for human rights and dignity for all; our fight for economic freedom and equitable distribution of wealth that is ongoing; the rising abuse of our most vulnerable women and children that is a battle far from won; and a war against crime, corruption and leaders with broken values who have lost the moral high ground and have let the entire nation down.
We should pause, reflect and revisit histories of the liberation struggle in order to critically rethink the promises of freedom they represent. Against this backdrop of corrosion and in the interests of an as-of-yet unrealised freedom, we are faced with difficult questions we must ask of history and its resonances in the present: How far have we come? Where are we now? Where have we lost the values that honour the rights for all; the values that champion the people; that unite even the most divided; and that pave the road for a better South Africa for all?
A time where loss of human dignity is common and literal, where freedoms, rights and the sanctity of life are increasingly vulnerable, we must choose the holistic philosophy of Nelson Mandela ‘the leader’, ‘the fighter’, ‘the healer’ and ‘the father’ as a starting point for action. Critical dialogue around collective memory, accountability and the ongoing demand for active citizenry ignites this call for the nation to galvanize, take action and engage in public participation. Through dialogue among equals, we create platforms for individuals and communities to embody the values and spirit of Madiba.
For society to collectively steer through troubled waters, we rely on the ability to navigate with a moral compass that encourages public service and civic responsibility as fundamental building blocks for social-cohesion, human development and a strong, inclusive future. As South Africans, we are blessed to have the great Tata Madiba from whom we draw our inspiration and moral ascendancy to shepherd and guide us.
We are in danger of stripping away the complexity of his legacy when we do not embrace the duty to internalise his social values into our daily lives. He breathed life into and walked the values of our Constitution. For us to live the values of the Bill of Rights enshrined in our Constitution is one of Mandela’s greatest legacies.
In his own words at the inauguration of the Constitutional Court in 1995:
“People come and go. Customs, fashions and preferences change. Yet the web of fundamental rights and justice which a nation proclaims must not be broken.”
In his autobiography,‘An Odyssey to Freedom’, George Bizos quotes Nelson Mandela, saying:
“The Constitution speaks of both the past and the future. It permits us to build a nation based on the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom, through constitutionalism and the rule of law.
“It describes the mechanisms and institutions which we have created to ensure that we achieve this. There are no shortcuts on the road to freedom. The constitution describes the path which we must and shall follow.”
The principles within our Constitution are therefore sacred – they underpin the social values that Madiba lived by and serve as a guide to an individual’s actions, beliefs and emotional systems.
An individual cannot be separated from the broad society he lives in and these social values are critical for self-development ―for moulding your personality, perceptions, emotional intelligence, ethics, moral courage and more. They serve as standards of social behaviour to create the social conditions we desire. These culturally defined goals are the ambitions we aspire to, rooted in a collective future we aim to create for all as defined in the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights echo the social values of Madiba and are a point of reference for South Africans to share in common, this should form the basis for social unity.
We see ourselves in each other through these shared values and because of these values. These social values bring legitimacy to the rules and laws that govern us, they are the essence of what it takes to create social cohesion and an inclusive future.
Our values inform our thoughts, words and actions.
Every individual and organisation is involved in making hundreds of decisions each day. The decisions we make are a reflection of our values and beliefs. That purpose is the satisfaction of our individual or collective needs. When we use our values to make decisions, we make a deliberate choice to focus on what is important to us. When values are shared, they build cohesion.
Returning to the sirens of the youth, alerting us to the constant threat that our revolution faces, these warning signs ask us to examine the unfulfilled promise of freedom through the lens of social, economic and political decay that confront our people daily. Against this suffering, we are forced to ask of ourselves: what is the role of social values in guiding an individual and organisation’s actions? What is the actual standard we live by in South Africa?
In his own words at the Joint Sitting of Parliament to mark 10 years of democracy in 2004, Madiba said:
“The people of Africa have learned the lessons of patience and endurance in their long struggle for freedom. In a cynical world we have become an inspiration to many. We signal that good can be achieved amongst human beings who are prepared to trust, prepared to believe in the goodness of people.”
What are we prepared to do to achieve good? How do we close the gap between our social values and our actions? Madiba never asked of others what he wasn’t prepared to do himself. He challenged oppressive institutions, society and the world on a range of issues. Madiba could be influenced by those who engaged him whilst he was marshalling the facts to come to a determination, however, once his mind was made up, he was resolute and loyal to his decision.
And hence, he valued debates and discussions. For instance, he pursued reconciliation as a necessary step towards nation building.
He knew how to use his privilege as a leader. He kept his public actions and work transparent through his selfless behaviour and commitment to honesty. Mandela was the best fundraiser of our time. But he did all of that transparently, hence there were no come backs. There is a lesson to be learnt for leaders of today when we witness the various series of Commissions of Inquiry reveal the massive self-aggrandizement of those who are in a position of power in business and government.
So much of the fabric of Madiba’s social values were inspired by and shared with Walter Sisulu. The young Sisulu served as a magnet for young African intellectuals of the time because he was erudite and a good listener who provided space for debates and discussions not only to Mandela but to the cream of that generation who throughout their lives were ultimate disruptors.
The disruptive innovation that displaces and replaces previous ideas, products or processes and evolves at an exponential rate cannot be mentioned without the role that the young generation plays: they are the disruptive generation.
It is the prerogative of youth to bring radical perspectives to the fore and to disrupt the status quo through innovation and imagination. Creativity by process of disruption is the stuff that the youth feed off, they drive it, they champion it. The young and the old Mandela was the quintessential disruptor – an ideal role model for the youth of today seeking to innovate our world of tomorrow.
Young people move through a series of critical inflection points that will influence their mindset and the trajectory of their lives. Diving into history, discovering our heritage of humanity, excavating stories of freedom fighters and interrogating dominant narratives will unearth a treasure chest of role models that can provide that young person with a vision for what is possible in their own lives.
It is our duty to exhume, expose and exhibit our humanitarian legacy for the youth as a social safety net that can give her or him balance in the moments when they are at risk of falling. We need to make a long-term commitment to serve the youth, to provide a support system and play an active presence in the lives of young people. We do not need to reinvent new mentorship models for youth – an ecosystem of role models exists within our history of humanity.
For instance, in his own words on the passing away of Walter Sisulu in 2003, Madiba said:
“[H]e was courageous and his quiet self-confidence and clarity of vision marked him out as a leader among us.
“However, he neither sought nor wielded his authority by virtue of office. He was ever ready to draw others into leadership. When he was banned by the apartheid regime from holding office in the ANC he smoothed the way for OR to take up the post as the Secretary General. He never asked of others what he was not prepared to do himself.
“He was blessed with that quality that always saw the good in others, and therefore he was able to bring out that goodness. He had an inexhaustible capacity to listen to others, and therefore he was able to encourage others to explore ideas.”
The transfer, sharing and osmosis of morals and ethics between Sisulu and Mandela was part of a larger supply chain and ecosystem of principles, proverbs and prescripts between a lineage of great leaders of our nation:
Dr Abdurahman, Sol Plaatje, Charlotte Maxeke, Selope Tema, Cissy Gool, I.B. Tabata, Tengo Jabavu, Cannon Arthur James Calata, Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, Dr A.B. Xuma, Moses Kotane, William Bill Andrews, Solly Sachs, Monty Naiker, Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Chief Albert Luthuli, O.R. Tambo, Braam Fischer, Chris Hani, Steve Biko, Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, Reg September, Basil February, Ruth First, Onkgopotse Tiro, and the countless names of unknown soldiers whose stories are yet to be told – this is the proud and indomitable lineage that forged and freed a system of values that we revere today. An ancestry of consciousness, a pedigree of virtues, a heritage of integrity – this is the ecosystem from which our social values were nurtured.
In his own words at the address at the funeral of Oliver Tambo in 1993, Madiba said:
“Oliver lived not because he could breathe. He lived not because blood flowed through his veins… Oliver lived because he had surrendered his very being to the people. He lived because his very being embodied love, an idea, a hope, an aspiration, a vision.”
This wealth of being and this treasury of knowledge is a belief system that is passed down to us from generation to generation – the responsibility, lying solely in the hands of those whose arms are open to receive, to safeguard, grow and perpetuate these riches.
To live the social values of the late Nelson Mandela is to step out of the shadows and to recognize the lineage of souls whom occupy our world through the residue of their great courage, humanity and selfless ideals. To live the social values of our Constitution is to call forth the memories and wisdom of our ancestry that feed our souls and navigate our passages. To live any worthy social value system is to visualise a future of healing for all where our communion, our fellowship and our concord is based on a shared compassion, empathy, goodwill, friendship, mercy and love.
Let me leave you with Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa’s sermon: he explained that before the invention of the mirror, human beings could not see themselves but could only see beauty in others.
This should be our watchword – we should see beauty in others.
I thank you.