Unless South Africans tackle poverty, Nelson Mandela’s dream of a society in which all are equal is “just a dream”, said Nelson Mandela Foundation Chief Executive Sello Hatang on 10 May. He was speaking at the public launch of a new strategic direction for Nelson Mandela International Day (Mandela Day), at an event at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill.
The Foundation has this year shifted the focus of Mandela Day from simply making every day a Mandela Day to encouraging South Africans to seek out projects that have sustainability, reach and impact. This year’s theme is "Action against poverty".
“Take action, inspire change and identify your action against poverty,” said the Foundation’s Mandela Day manager, Yase Godlo, at the launch.
“Everyone has a role to play, and one day is not going to cut it, as much as it helps; there is so much to do,” said Thembi Moyo, social media lead at Partners for Possibility.
Partners for Possibility has already set up 593 partnerships between leaders of disadvantaged schools and business leaders. It is aiming to establish 20 000 of these partnerships that seek to improve school management and leadership. There are more than 60 000 schools in South Africa.
Mandela Day is an international campaign centred around the United Nations’ 2009 declaration of Nelson Mandela’s 18 July birthday as Nelson Mandela International Day. On this day everyone, everywhere is encouraged to take concrete steps towards improving life for others. The campaign is now observed in 149 countries.
“More than 63% of South African children live in poverty; one in five – 12-million – South Africans live in extreme poverty,” said Hatang.
The launch coincided with a market-like display of about 25 of Mandela Day’s more prominent participants.
Simamkele Dlakavu, coordinator for #SafeTaxisNow, said a recent spate of reported rapes of taxi passengers in Gauteng highlights how often women and girls who are unable to afford private transport are at risk.
Dlakavu, public speaker and international “tuberculosis ambassador” Gerry Rantseli Elsdon and Soul City CEO Lebo Ramafoko led a short dialogue on the violence women and girls face on the streets and in public transport. They linked this to poverty and argued that it is time men stand up for women and girls who are the subject of any form of sexual abuse.
“I wonder what would happen if a man slapped a man for slapping a woman,” said Rantseli Elsdon.
“We have to ask how to ensure women and girls enjoy the freedom Mandela fought for,” said Ramafoko.
When the dialogue was over those who attended the launch were invited to tour the various organisations’ displays.
“We aim to pack three-million meals this year,” said Brian Nell, national operations manager for Stop Hunger Now Southern Africa.
Usually on Mandela Day the organisation organises competition between corporate teams that vie for the title of the corporation that packs the most meals in 67 minutes. “They pack on average 3 240 meals,” Nell said.
The switch to a year-round programme means that Stop Hunger Now can allow more businesses and organisations to participate, because simple logistics has generally tied it to the major cities, he said.
Dignity Dreams provides washable sanitary pad packs for girls who cannot afford these necessities. Research shows that girls often miss school during the time of their monthly period because of this.
“I like the idea of making the action more sustainable, and every day,” said Maselotsha Mphahlele of Dignity Dreams. “Impact-wise it’s a great idea; people can commit to it more easily ... Also, there’s a disconnect between the action and the community if it is a one-off [on Mandela Day].”
This opinion was echoed by the Wot-If? Trust’s Gail Styger, whose organisation works in Diepkloof, Johannesburg, assisting with small business development programmes, women’s empowerment schemes, youth development and crafting on order for businesses.
“For me Mandela Day was always about doing something sustainable, to leave a legacy,” she said.
Keynote speaker Mamphela Ramphele, one of Mandela Day’s Founding Trustees, said Mandela was “a revolutionary focused on social justice”. Until poverty is eradicated, South Africa cannot claim to be a society based on social justice.
Ramphele said healing South Africa’s racial divisions is important as it would unleash the social empathy needed in order for poverty to be uprooted.
“We want Mandela Day to be an inspiration to fundamentally change our attitude to poverty, our view of who we are so that we become a society that liberates the energies of every person in South Africa.”