This Mandela Day will feel different because, in the past, it has been an occasion for groups of people to congregate to do good things. This year, the situation we’re in, and the requirements of social distancing, seems to create extra space for contemplation.
Daily, the coronavirus pandemic starkly reveals the unfairness, immorality and brutality of inequality in South Africa – and globally – for all to see and ponder.
The simple fact is that many South Africans are sitting ducks because they cannot comply with World Health Organisation protocols on improved hygiene and social distancing. They live in over-crowded conditions, with inadequate access to clean water and sanitation services, and depend on unsafe public transport systems.
The pandemic has decimated national, regional and household economies. Poorer people are being asked to pay the highest price as infections, unemployment and destitution spike.
International Mandela Day is an important annual focal point designated by the United Nations for citizens and institutions to contribute something – large or small – to address inequality and contribute to the creation of a less divided world closer to that of our founding father’s vision.
Never has the campaign slogan, Make every day a Mandela Day, seemed more apt than now in the shadows of both the pandemic and a plague of gender-based violence in South Africa that further underlines the depth of our inequality.
We commemorate the 102nd year of Mr Mandela’s birth tomorrow in extreme humility, in the knowledge that the goals he set for an inclusive and just society have not been achieved.
New social pacts must emerge with us from these storms.
Our prayer is that, on top of the 67 minutes of volunteerism tomorrow to symbolise Mr Mandela’s 67 years of public service, South Africans set time aside to seriously begin to re-imagine the fairer and more sustainable society we’d like to see on the other side of the coronavirus.
As Archbishop Tutu said of liberation from apartheid in January 1985: “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.”
Never before has this full menu seemed so far away yet, at the same time, so closely within reach. We are all suffering, the poor and the marginalised to greater and more painful depths.
Through a combination of active citizens and civil society, responsive and responsible leadership, and an engaged and conscious business sector, we must emerge from the shadow of the pandemic with new resolve and pragmatic turnaround strategies to balance the imbalances that define us.
As a collective, we must muster the courage to lay the seeds on this International Mandela Day for the non-discriminatory, compassionate and principled world of human values that Mr Mandela embodied.
* The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation expresses its deepest condolences to the Mandela family which suffered two losses this week: Zindzi Mandela, daughter of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, and a child of the nation, tragically passed away aged just 59 on Monday. Gogo Anna Mosehle, maternal grandmother of Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, passed away on Wednesday.
Photograph: Benny Gool