The commemoration of 30 years since President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s release provides us with an occassion to reflect and ponder on the road we have travelled and how far we have reached on the long walk to freedom; freedom from poverty; freedom from racism and discrimination of all kinds; and freedom for each South African to achieve their true potential. The more important question we must all ask ourselves is: what must still be done? If Madiba were with us today, what would his advice be?
I can find no more meaningful and significant response to that question than what Nkosi Dalibhunga himself said from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall on that historic day on the 11th February 1990 when addressing hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the Grand Parade and broadcast live to billions around the world: “I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
These words have more than melancholic significance and speaks to three distinct axiomatic truths without which our democracy stands doomed. The first and most lacking in our collective psyche is the culture of service or being a servant of the people. In its place we have demagogues who regard themselves as superior to the people; who regard the people as their subjects and election fodder. We need to deeply reflect on this reality. One of the first acts Madiba publicly announced was a cut in his Presidential salary. Today, public office bearers insist on driving the best cars, living in the most luxurious mansions and enjoying the most opulent lifestyles. What happened to being a humble servant of the people?
It is no small wonder that we are faced with the pandemic of corruption for the goal is self-aggrandizement at the expense of the people. This is not only true of the public sector but is perhaps even more rampant in the private sector where the notion of South Africa belongs to all who live in it is simply translated into a caveat of monopoly capital with the people as perpetual slaves of those who really own it; the land, the mineral wealth, industry and agriculture.
The second axiom evident in that historic message is a blatant acknowledgement that is required. In a single stroke President Mandela invoked more than three centuries of struggle acknowledging that his release and indeed 25 years of democracy was only possible because of: the tireless and heroic sacrifices that have made possible for us to be here today. No political office-bearer or community leader made it to high office through their own ballot or by their own efforts.
We must return the power to the people or as Cde Che Guevara remarked: “the people are their own best liberators”. Many commentators have blamed our current state of affairs on the demise of the Mass Democratic Movement post 1994 or at best its inactivity. We can never overcome the myriad challenges that we face without an activist citizenry. This does not include the third force foreign funded NGOs and lobbies that Nkosi Dalibhunga warned of in 1994. These ride the crest of social activism under the banner of many social causes such as land, housing, healthcare, education and youth development. These drive foreign agendas inimical to our national interest and welfare of our people. We must find true north and revive the selfless social activism that secured Madiba’s release and set our nation on the path to democracy.
In finding this moral compass we shall give expression to the third axiom or self evident truth in those historic words that President Mandela uttered. Are there any leaders out there who are willing today to pledge to the people of South Africa lifelong service? Is that a bridge too far? Is there none who will say to the people of this country: “I place the remaining years of my life in your hands!” What a man and what a moment it was. It was a political and personal triumph merged into one as he was reunited with his comrades and the people; and with his family whom he dearly loved and missed after three decades of incarceration during which he lost his mother Nosekeni and Thembekile, his son. In that moment he surrenders it all to serve the people.
Today, remember him and call on all South Africans who love and emulate him to once again respond to his call. We can make South Africa great again. We can fight the scourge of poverty and corruption. We can overcome all obstacles and achieve the vision of a united, free, non-racial, non-sexist and just South Africa in which all can enjoy prosperity and a better life for all.
Nkosi Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council and grandson of famed South African President Nelson Mandela. Member of Parliament (MP) South Africa National Assembly.