The man is an icon, the day is not

In this nation of some 4.4-million people, Saffas, as we are known, are to be found in every nook and cranny, every occupation and at every station of life. From farmers to doctors, tradesmen to teachers, an estimated 50 000 people have made the South Pacific nation their new home, 12 000km away and 10 hours in the future. Nearly all of them are white, although some Indian, some coloured and a very small number of black Saffas have made the trek to a country that has very different problems to those faced in South Africa.

Although elements of South African culture are preserved in the many online and physical groups which have sprung up around what is a distinct and recognised community, interest in Mandela Day is not high on the agenda. "What am I doing for Mandela Day? What?" is a typical response, in this case said by Auckland-based chartered accountant Clint Jackson, now working for New Zealand bank Westpac. It isn't said with bitterness, either – rather, it is simply not on the agenda. "I've got too much other stuff to be interested in, we have our own public holidays and worthy causes locally."

It's not an uncommon sentiment: although there is an enduring perception among South Africans in South Africa that all expats hanker after home, these tend to be a perhaps vocal minority, aided by the wonders of the internet. The greater number busy themselves with becoming part of Kiwi culture – which, with similar colonial roots, in many ways resembles the "white, English, middle class, moderate" community of KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s.

That's not to say that they forget where they came from or who they are; rather, given the considerable cost and upheaval involved in moving countries and earning the right to live and work in, and become a citizen of, another country, they set about doing just that.

Where is the love? You will find it
An examination of significant expat websites turned up no evidence of any special efforts around Mandela Day. A request for any comment regarding Mandela Day placed on the Safra-Kiwi Facebook page, which has nearly 2 000 members, drew a stony silence. The 1 659-member page has not a single mention of Nelson Mandela, much less Mandela Day.

Does this mean South Africans in New Zealand don't care about Nelson Mandela and his contribution to the struggle? Certainly not. In casual conversation, most expats remember Mandela with great fondness and respect. Mark Taylor, a North Shore software programmer, sums up common sentiment: "Nelson is an excellent leader; he overcame huge challenges to accomplish a lot in his life. I read his biography and love to tell people here more about that aspect of South African history.  If he was still president, I would probably still be there."

Did Taylor do anything for Mandela Day? "When is Mandela Day?  Has it already happened?"

It's a commercial thing
Indeed, the only substantial effort put into Mandela Day in New Zealand was mounted by international skincare firm Dermalogica. As part of its efforts, the Kiwi branch of the company placed 67 auctions on (a site similar to eBay), with proceeds going to charity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company's Auckland-based marketing coordinator, Sarah Grey, hails from Johannesburg.

"We wanted to do something distinctively Kiwi but As TradeMe is one of New Zealand's most visited websites, tying in with that was the obvious choice. "People on TradeMe have been fantastic around it [the Mandela Day auctions]; however, people do struggle to identify with the day, so we have also linked to [a local charity]," Grey says.

Agreeing that Mandela is an icon and describing him as "an amazing person", she admits that outside of the company programme, like many South Africans she isn't doing anything related to the day from a personal perspective. Does she think expats are particularly interested in either Dermalogica's efforts or the TradeMe auctions? "Probably not. It is more often Kiwis [New Zealanders] who are responding in terms of the bidding."

Of course, New Zealanders themselves are a highly educated and often adventurous people, with the country enjoying a history of standing against apartheid. Nelson Mandela is well known and recognised across the nation; blogger Helene Ravlich, who posted about Mandela Day, is one of them. "Anything that reminds us how desperately others in our community need our help can only be a good thing. Mandela Day holds up the life's work of an extraordinary man as an amazing example to follow. It's a call to action for whatever time you can spare, and will benefit more people than you realise."

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.

No way out for Thales in arms deal case, court...

The arms manufacturer has argued that there was no evidence to show that it was aware of hundreds of indirect payments to Jacob Zuma, but the court was not convinced.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…