As we kick into high gear to celebrate the centenary of Mandela, there is also a need to pause and reflect. As hundreds of projects under the Madiba name get underway and we spill barrels of ink on the legacy and shortcomings of Madiba, we must consider what circumstances led us to where we are and what can we, as individuals and communities, can do for the benefit of society.
Former president Barack Obama, who will deliver the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, will offer his views on this when he speaks to “Renewing the Mandela legacy and promoting active citizenship in a changing world”.
The Obama lecture will follow a recent trip I took to Montgomery and Selma, Alabama which highlighted not only the global nature of some of our most pressing social problems but also the need for global solidarities.
Visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka the Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery, Alabama left me emotionally numb.
I felt numb not only because of past injustices and imagining the terror felt by the many victims of lynching and their families who knew that once accused, they faced an almost certain death; my numbness came from knowing that the past continues to haunt us in new forms of terror.
Some of the most harrowing and noticeable over the last few years year have been the targeted police killings of black people in the US, the increase of slavery in Libya and other places, countless tales of women being raped and dying at the hands of their partners and continued violent crime.
The visit left me devastated, raw and feeling discouraged knowing all the woundedness we are suffering from as a people. Woundedness that’s hardly acknowledged by the perpetrators! Maybe it’s not for them to acknowledge that pain but for the victims to keep fighting for a more equal and just world, and the rule of law.
Speaking to American social justice activist Bryan Stevenson reminded me that we cannot afford to stay numb forever. He reminded me that we must all play our part to help society reckon with this difficult past. We must turn into partners who want to see justice realised for old and new victims of all forms of terror.
You can choose to look the other way, to hope that victims will recover without lending a helping hand, without sacrifice. You can choose to be an armchair critic who sees everything wrong with all the efforts of others. A critic who finds others falling short yet doesn’t get involved to help them fulfil their mission in life.
I choose to get my hands dirty. To help in any way possible to lift the heavy burden of poverty and inequality from the shoulders of the poor and vulnerable. I choose to keep dreaming.
Dreaming of a country free of the pit latrines that can kill another Michael Komape and Lumka Mketwa.
Dreaming of a country in which Palesa Madiba could have completed her degree at the University of Johannesburg.
Dreaming of a country in which Karabo Mokoena is still alive and free of punches from her partner.
Dreaming of a country in which Andries Tatane is receiving the basic services he needed in his community.
I am a dreamer!
I dream of a country that fully supports the rights of the LGBTI community without fear of death and mockery.
I dream of health workers fighting for their right to fair wages while respecting the rights of patients to receive care.
I dream of the disabled being fully supported and accommodated in their daily lives.
These names and stories remind me that hope and dreams are not enough without hard work. Courage and bravery are not enough without thoughtfulness and help from others, and genuine solidarity remains key to changing our society.
We all have a role to play. The victims of injustice do not have the time to wait.
It is time for us to think through what it means to live the Madiba legacy.
To get your hands dirty and to be an active citizen and to fight the structural injustices that still plague us.
Sello Hatang is the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation