Mandela Day: The next step is social justice

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has decided that Mandela Day needs to become more focused on critical social issues identified through research or speaking to those affected. (Rodger Bosch/AFP)

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has decided that Mandela Day needs to become more focused on critical social issues identified through research or speaking to those affected. (Rodger Bosch/AFP)

During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a global commitment to end apartheid. Funding for civil society was more generous than it is now. However, when democracy was ushered in and the threat of a bloodbath in South Africa was successfully averted, global funding moved away from civil society and towards the government.

Arguably, civil society is more visible today than it was 20 years ago and critique of its mandate, accountability and funding has grown.

But poverty and inequality have also grown.

The problems of today look far more intractable than they did in the 1990s.
There is no single enemy, but rather a complex network of intersecting structures and systems of oppression. South Africans remain wounded by the traumas of the past and are unsure about the most effective way to heal.

Many of us remain politically, literally and spiritually landless. Many of us are afraid to leave our homes after dark, if we have homes at all. Many of us are excluded from the self-actualisation that formal education promises. All of us are victims of theft from government corruption and mismanagement.

The question haunting all of us is: Where we go from here? 

In an effort to unravel the crisis of poverty and inequality, the Mandela initiative was launched to thoroughly investigate the causes of the crisis and build models of what solutions might look like. The initiative was a university-led national endeavour in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, government departments at local, provincial and national level, the private sector, civil society, religious groups, labour movements and universities.

The initiative delivered its report in September 2018, detailing the extent of the crisis we face as a country and proposing models to overcome it. Drawing from the report as well as the 2015 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture delivered by Professor Thomas Piketty, and lessons learnt from the past 10 years of the Mandela Day campaign, the foundation resolved to implement a new strategy for Nelson Mandela International Day.

Mandela Day was introduced to the world by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in 2009 to commemorate the birthday of Nelson Mandela and the lifetime of service he gave to South Africa and to the world. It became a day to focus awareness on human suffering and the imperative for everyone to take responsibility for ending it.  As Madiba said during his 90th year, “It is in your hands now.”

Some of the critique of the campaign has identified the trap of do‑gooding. It just isn’t enough for privileged people to take action against poverty for an hour and seven minutes on July 18 each year.  That will not change systems and structures. At the same time, the legacy on which the day has been built has also been contested, especially by younger generations who are insisting on more radical intervention.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s new strategy, Mandela Day: The Next Chapter, is a commitment to making sustainable inroads in the fight against poverty and its underlying causes.

Of course, Mandela Day is a brand in its own right, a call to action, a message. It will continue to invite people around the world to interpret Madiba’s legacy in their own way and to honour him by doing voluntary work with a social justice focus in their communities.

Moving forward, this broad scope for the global dimensions of the campaign will be maintained. We will rely on a network of partners both to promote the campaign and to provide it with an issue-based focus in a specific country and other contexts.

Within South Africa, however, the campaign will be linked directly to the foundation’s dialogue and advocacy work and will aim to help communities both through direct support as well as public policy interventions.

The campaign will focus directly on critical social issues emerging either from research and analysis or from dialogue and other forms of community-level engagement. The campaign work will support activism against injustice and advocacy for appropriate public policy shifts.

While the broad appeal and the inclusiveness of the campaign will remain in place — people everywhere should continue to have the freedom to do work they regard as important for their communities, under the Mandela Day umbrella — the foundation is systematically harnessing the campaign as a tool for social justice.

In the first 10 years of the campaign in South Africa the Nelson Mandela Foundation concentrated on facilitating processes, including resource mobilisation, for a wide range of projects.

In future this mobilisation will be focused by the long-term research and analysis being undertaken by the foundation and will increasingly be channelled towards testing models and running pilot projects. These, we believe, will teach us new ways of doing things.

For example, the Nelson Mandela Foundation convenes a monthly meeting with early childhood development forums in Gauteng. This is borne out of our commitment to elevating grassroots and community voices and ensuring that the lives of people who are affected by policy should be included in discussions that affect their lives.

Our watchword has to be: “Nothing about us without us.”

Ensuring sustainability has to be a key objective of intervention in the social justice space. It isn’t enough any longer to simply try and do more. We have to do differently.

Sello Hatang is the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

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