February 12 marks the anniversary of the day in 1990 on which Nelson Mandela woke up a free man for the first time in 27 years, after spending the night following his release at Bishopscourt, the Archbishop’s residence in Cape Town.
I have blessed a plaque on a terrace in front of the house, marking the spot from which Madiba greeted the world’s media that morning before conducting his first news conference
I remember Madiba’s long walk to freedom, as we all do, on many emotional levels.
I have often celebrated his release on February 11 by visiting the gates of the former Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. On other occasions I have sat and meditated in the apartment at Bishopscourt which Archbishop Desmond Tutu made available to him for his first night away from prison.
Among the volumes of words written about or used by Nelson Mandela, the 14 that I most often remember are those from the poem Invictus by WE Henley, which sustained him in prison: I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
Those words are as true for us as when they first inspired Madiba. The emotional vertigo of the Zuma decade that has left each of us, our families, our friends, our communities and our nation feeling like we have been on the deck of a ship in the middle of the fiercest storm, is close to ending. South Africa’s destiny now is a choice that we all have in our hands: black hands, white, brown, yellow hands rainbow hands.
At the same time, I am a realist. Unquestionably, I believe in South Africans and in South Africa. But as the boxer portrayed in the film, Rocky Balboa says, let me remind you of something you already know: the world is not all sunshine and rainbows. It can be a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.
Despite the progress made since Madiba’s release, South Africans have been hit hard by many things over the past 20 years. We have been slowed down, we have been diverted, and we at times have been stopped by barriers thrown up by morally corrupt leaders who have created a most unequal society in terms of service delivery, education and healthcare.
My principal concern is the way in which inequality has remained pervasive, hitting the poor again and again.
But, to invoke Rocky again, the key to winning, surviving and thriving is, in the end, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.
February 1990 was a moment of destiny. Seeing Mandela elected president of a free South Africa was another.
Now, in 2018, we stand at the dawn of a new age where the dizziness of uncertainty can be replaced by the equilibrium of equality. We are again witnesses to a moment of destiny in which a decade of corruption can be replaced with the birth of a South Africa which, despite its many challenges, has a chance to unite, not as a political party but rather as a society committed to becoming a nation of extraordinary achievers of equality.
Let me ask: What do you and Nelson Mandela have in common?
We are a nation of bridge builders. We will bridge the barriers of bigotry, bridge the chasms of inequality and bridge the barricades which block everyone from having equal opportunities. So, my countrymen and women: start cleaning the tools which we will use to build prosperity, start finding trust again in your hearts, and most importantly, start asking not what South Africa can do for me, but what I can do for South Africa.
Please pray for all our leaders, but in particular for the National Executive Committee of the ANC, for Cyril Ramaphosa, the party’s president, and for all members of Parliament as they chart the way forward in the coming days.
* Archbishop Thabo Makgoba
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.