Nelson Mandela Foundation

Hands, with sanitiser Nelson Mandela Foundation

For the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the month of June has been another one shaped indelibly by our team’s experiences in delivering food and other necessities to communities in all parts of our country. Soon we will have visited every province, always reaching out to the most marginal groupings in our society – child-headed households, the elderly, people living in deep rural areas, informal crèche workers on whom so many children depend for food, refugees, and so on. It is clear now that what has been an emergency relief intervention will have to grow into a longer term institutional programme, because the challenges of food security for the majority of our people will loom large for a long while yet. We and our institutional partners are developing a wider range of support delivery mechanisms and are beginning to grapple with the underlying systemic issues. The longer term objective has to be community empowerment and appropriate public policy shifts.

We have also dedicated significant time to preparations for the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, which for the very first time will be delivered from a virtual platform. We are honoured to have as our speaker the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who will speak to the theme Tackling the inequality pandemic: A new social contract for a new era.  He, of course, is ideally positioned to talk about the ways in which COVID-19 has both manifested and amplified global patterns of inequality and to reflect on the kind of international co-operation that will be needed in the longer term if these patterns are to be erased. We trust that our friends and stakeholders will support the Lecture and that we will succeed in convening a large virtual audience.

In 2015 Thomas Piketty delivered the Annual Lecture and used the occasion to address the challenge of inequality, both globally and in South Africa. Five years later and he has just released a new book, Capital and Ideology, which shows that if anything the challenge is growing and that what he calls a ‘global inequality regime’ is taking humanity to the edge of disaster. The book unfolds how this regime insists on maximum fluidity for the flows of capital, goods, information and other forms of trade and exchange, but uses borders to control the flow of people. Global elites become wealthier, poorer states become pauperised, and better-off societies and communities retreat into nationalist and identitarian refuge. It is no surprise to hear that President Trump has put a freeze on the employment of non-citizens in the United States, and that Nigeria has made the employment of foreigners illegal in most cases. At a time when the world needs what Piketty calls transnational justice and global federalism more than ever, we see countries retreating behind national borders and prioritising their own interests. Another reason to look forward to what Secretary-General Gutteres will have to say at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

South Africa, of course, is not immune to these phenomena. We inherit long histories of colonial and apartheid divide-and-rule strategies, including extractive regional migrant labour systems, and we grapple with the shadow of nation-building strategies and the destructiveness of xenophobia. It is no accident that the Freedom Charter dreamed of a South Africa which would one day belong to all who live in it. This question of belonging has been troubling me more than ever through the period of lockdown. 

As unemployment spirals in our country we too start talking about who really deserves access to jobs and to services. When I visit refugee communities – we were in Cape Town recently, for instance, and delivered food parcels to the refugee centres there – our team is engaged by people who long to belong. Somewhere. And across the country, day in and day out, we are confronted by communities whose levels of poverty, deprivation and alienation suggest that they do not belong in a country with enormous natural and other forms of wealth. 

What does citizenship mean to people who are, in every other way, discarded? If the military and police personnel who killed Collins Khoza had believed that he truly belonged – in his country, in his community, on his property – would they have dared violate him in the way they did?

In this moment of severe challenge may we not lose our focus on building a society which is truly free. Free from want, from racism, xenophobia, gender-based violence, corruption and other societal ills …