As the year draws to an end, unavoidably, we have to reckon with the December anniversary of Madiba’s passing and reflect back on the year that has been 2022. A year we also had to bury Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
For the past nine years, this moment of pause has become an annual ritual for the Foundation – remembering Madiba, assessing the year, asking ourselves what the legacy of Madiba is demanding of us as we face the year ahead.
By any measure, 2022 has been a brutal year. Globally, we have seen the invasion of the Ukraine devastating a country and unleashing economic hardship around the world. Terrible failures of diplomacy preceded this war. Failures which seem to have become a hallmark of 21st century international relations. Across the globe, especially in countries of the Global South, we have seen a mounting climate crisis manifested in extreme weather phenomena.
We also saw this playing out uncannily in KwaZulu-Natal, with the frightening wave of public violence in July 2021 finding a terrible echo in the devastating floods in parts of the province in February this year.
It has been a brutal year, especially for our society’s most vulnerable communities. Food insecurity is increasingly alarming in tandem with a spiralling inflation. Putting food on the table is becoming impossible for way too many people. Just making it through the day has become a measure of success. This is not just a metaphor - with the levels of crime as they are today, literally getting to the end of the day unscathed has become a routine objective for too many. The recent robberies at a mosque and a church took us to new levels of lawlessness.
We are in trouble. And we are troubled! Whilst we are still haunted by the Phala Phala conundrum, and the recent findings of the parliamentary panel on this matter, we are also trying to make peace with the release on parole of Chris Hani’s killer and we worry about what the re-imprisonment of former President Zuma will mean for the country. We are exhausted by the endless positioning of candidates and factions ahead of the ANC elective conference. We’re exasperated by coalition administrations which form and collapse and re-form. These political parties have demonstrated over and over that it is no longer about service delivery but more about access to power and resources. We are very tired!
We are struggling to make sense of this historical moment. Perhaps, perhaps, this becomes our singular challenge, as South Africans and as human beings. What is this moment we find ourselves living through? What does it mean? What is our task?
It is precisely because I was grappling with questions like these that the recent visit to our shores by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados during the 20th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture brought with it a strong breath of fresh air. Her work demonstrates the power of solidarity combined with vision. Her words illustrated the inspiration Madiba still offers the world, nine years after his passing. For Prime Minister Mottley, Madiba remains a compelling moral compass in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty. How much more should this be the case for us here in South Africa?
Madiba continues to be an inspiration to me to keep going, no matter how bleak the world feels to me in this moment. It is time for collaborative action, for solidarity. It is time for us to turn the myriad recommendations of multiple commissions of enquiry into decisive and concrete action. It is time for us to find leaders at every level of society who care deeply for the people they represent, and who simply refuse to eat at the trough of personal enrichment - and then, of course, we must take responsibility for ensuring that they are elevated. It is time to keep going.
In 1969 Madiba wrote a letter to his daughters Sis Zeni and Sis Zindzi, in which he picked up on their pain at his not being able to share a home with them. He reassured them that he was well and feeling strong and hopeful. He spoke with confidence of the day he would come out of prison and share family life with them again. He chose to be positive. He was determined that he would not be worn down and that he would keep going.
As with Madiba when he wrote the letter, only seven years into what would be twenty-seven years in prison, our task today is stay the course.