As our celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary kicks into high gear, there is also need to pause and reflect.
As the hundreds of projects celebrating Madiba get under way, much is being written about his shortcoming, spilling barrels of ink. During this time we must consider what circumstances led us to where we are and what we as individuals and communities can do for the benefit of society, because Mandela told us repeatedly that it is in our hands to make of the world a better place.
Former US President Barack Obama, who is delivering the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in July, will offer his views on this when he addresses the topic of this year’s lecture: “Renewing the Mandela legacy and promoting active citizenship in a changing world.”
The Obama lecture will follow a recent trip I took to the Alabama cities of Montgomery and Selma. Those visits highlighted for me 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 (informally known as the National Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery left me emotionally numb.
I was made numb not only because of the past injustices it represents and my imagining the terror felt by the many victims of lynching and their families – they knew that once accused of a crime, they faced an almost certain death – but also from knowing that the past continues to haunt us through new forms of terror.
Some of the most harrowing and noticeable of these over the past few years have been the targeted police killings of black people in the US; the increase in slavery in Libya and other places; the countless tales of women across the globe being raped and dying at the hands of their partners; and, just generally, continued violent crime.
The visit left me devastated, raw and discouraged. It impressed on me all the woundedness we are suffering, as black people, as women and as people in other vulnerable groups – 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 society 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 come right without lending a helping hand, without your sacrifice. You can choose to be an armchair critic who sees everything wrong with the efforts of those trying to help; a critic who finds others falling short, yet doesn't get involved themselves.
I choose to get my hands dirty, and 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 or Lumka Mketwa.
Dreaming of a country in which Palesa Madiba could have completed her degree at the University of Johannesburg instead of being murdered.
Dreaming of a country in which Karabo Mokoena is still alive and free of the 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 to live 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 people, and their tragic stories, remind me that hope and dreams are not enough without hard work; that courage and bravery are not enough without thoughtfulness and help from others; and that 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 our hands dirty, be active citizens and fight the structural injustices that plague us.