South Africans have a collective duty to rebuild Nelson Mandela’s spirit of reconciliation ubuntu, love, respect and integrity that he held so dear, the writer says. File picture: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters

The man whose words and image the South African regime had forbidden its people from seeing was free at last. Twenty-seven years, six months and six days after he was arrested on a lonely country road on the afternoon of Sunday, August 5, 1962, he was back among us.

His belongings - mainly books and papers - were packed up in 22 cardboard boxes and transported in a convoy of hastily borrowed sedan cars. Included among them was a body board, mistakenly noted as a "surfboard" he could use when using the swimming pool next to the house, and an exercise bicycle for this fitness fanatic.

As on the day he was taken into custody, his release on February 11,1990 was also on a Sunday and again on a country road. But when he walked into freedom at 4.22pm, there was nothing lonely or quiet about that moment. Hundreds of cheering people were there to witness the occasion and thousands more lined his route into Cape Town. South Africa would never be the same again.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation he would set up nine years later promotes his legacy through archival work, research and dialogue.

One of the many discoveries we have made is that his own autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, contains several errors of fact, including that, in the chaos of his release he was not taken to the home of his lawyer Dullah Omar, but to the home of activist Saleem Mowzer. This was corrected in the sequel Dare Not Linger, published last year.

Mandela’s first speech in almost three decades signalled the path of servant leadership and peace and reconciliation, which he was to make the hallmark of the remaining years of his life. As it turned out, he was free for just 22 years, nine months and 24 days before he passed away at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013.

Shortly after his release from prison he led talks between his ANC and the governing National Party. These historic discussions culminated in the Groote Schuur Minute in May 1990, the Pretoria Minute in August 1990 and the DF Malan Accord in February 1991. And they led, in December 1991, to full-blown negotiations to end white minority rule in South Africa.

While we commemorate 2018 as the centenary of the birth of this great South African on July 18, 1918, he has left us with rich layers of milestones in his remarkable life.

June this year marks the 25th anniversary of the end of the multiparty talks that resulted in an agreed date for South Africa’s first democratic elections. May is the 24th anniversary of Mandela being inaugurated as our country’s first president elected by the majority of South Africans. June is also the 19th anniversary of him stepping down after serving one term as president. October is also the 25th anniversary of the announcement that Mandela and then president FW de Klerk would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring about peace in South Africa.

The legacy of the 95 years of Mandela’s powerful life is a historical library. It links back to centuries of struggle before his birth in the quiet Transkei village of Mvezo and reaches far into the future with a call to all of us to use his examples to continue his work for real freedom, peace and democracy.

By any measure, Mandela’s impact, both locally and globally, has been unparalleled. But the unfinished business of his life's work looms large. The South Africa of his dreams remains tantalisingly out of reach. We will use his centenary year to continue working to make these dreams a reality. Madiba’s dreams require us, in 2018 especially, to focus our work around four primary objectives: the eradication of poverty and inequality, the dismantling of structural racism, the building of institutions of democracy and the broadening of freedom of information. Core programmes at the foundation underpin each of these objectives. And delivery of online access to his personal archive before the end of the year will support all of them.

No single person, family, institution or country owns the legacy of Mandela. Ultimately it belongs to everyone who is working for social justice, wherever they are in the world. Our aim in 2018 is to make that legacy more available to those committed to continuing struggles for justice. The future of humanity hinges on these struggles.

It is in this spirit that the Nelson Mandela Foundation fundamentally believes that his centenary year should - while celebrating the extraordinary life of a man - mark and entrench into society the values he lived by. The year 2018 is the year we must all strive towards building a values-based society.

The past few years, even during the time Madiba was still alive, we saw a gross erosion of the values that make us human. The values of ubuntu, for which Madiba and South Africans are known around the world, could soon be extinct.

The off-the-charts incidents of corruption involving the state and private business indicate that we have lost our core values as a people.

The inhumane way the sick and the vulnerable are treated, as evidenced in the Life Esidimeni case, is something totally contrary to the values upon which this nation was built.

We also see shocking incidents of racism, an insult to the spirit of reconciliation that Madiba showed as he walked out of prison.

We therefore believe this momentous year gives all of us a collective opportunity to return to the values of love, respect, integrity, passion, service, transformation, transparency and many other values that characterise us as a people.

* Sello Hatang is CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.