Nelson Mandela Foundation

Mandela Day 2021 3

The 18th of July, like previous years dating back to 2009, was once again acknowledged as Mandela Day and participated in around the globe this year. It was from 2010 that the day was first celebrated with the United Nations blessing for it as an international day of commemoration.

Moving into just over a year and half of the Covid-19 pandemic that has forced the world into new states of normality where nothing feels normal, the active citizenship part of this international day has now for a second year had to reformat, re-navigate, and re-engage how to echo the legacies and leadership of humanitarian work that South Africa’s first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, had done.

“The call to take action, inspire change, and make every day a Mandela Day is more important than ever before, in a time where the world has lost so much of the underpinning message of Mandela Day,” said the campaign’s director, Yase Godlo. Coming off a wave of public violence and loss of life in South Africa triggered by the jailing of a former President, this year’s Mandela Day month unfolded in contexts where the consequences of poverty and inequality were being made plain. 

For many years now the Foundation has joined with others in alerting the country to the unsustainable levels of rage building within our communities and inviting fellow members of society to participate in attempts to help others in the meeting of basic needs. We are often told that the most effective way for the country to move forward is through increased civil engagement, community participation, and social activism, rather than placing blame on corruption and unaccountable politicians. 

As Nelson Mandela insisted, when apartheid ended we faced the difficult task of reconstructing our shattered society and providing the most basic of services for our people  Of course, we cannot forget Mandela’s support of a version of liberalism that is inclusive and accepting of diversity and it is not news that waves of young people are more and more making evident the limits of liberalism that focuses on the individual and individual rights, not the community, when so much of this country’s inequality affects communities and generations devastatingly. 

Judith Butler, the American feminist theorist, talks about precarious lives, where conditions of uncertainty mean that through violence, uncertain income or no income and inequality, many are simply surviving from day to day. The Covid-pandemic, continued greed, socio-economic inequality, and rampant violence directed at marginalised bodies are all scents of the precarious times we live in, and it can be said that the legacies of colonialism and Apartheid remain the cause of precarious lives for most Black South Africans. The heightening of this precarity through Covid-19 has meant more people are hungry, more people are unemployed and more people are subjected to conditions which ignite this ‘nothing to lose’ sense, including a drive to access the food that they have been surviving without. 

Social justice and human rights are central to the commemoration of Mandela Day. The political violence, racial tensions, and the debilitating lawlessness are part of the historical moment South Africa is currently in. It’s not a question of considering stopping the humanitarian work that responds to the Foundation’s call to honour Madiba in this month of Mandela Day by stepping up, which has continued and has helped beneficiaries across the country extensively thanks to donors, support and the work being done by the Foundation. However, it is clear that we have to find a way to move beyond meeting the immediate emergency needs of society’s most vulnerable and begin fundamentally transforming the oppressive structures of power, privilege and property which systemically exclude the majority of people who call South Africa home.