July is always a special month in our history. July is Cuba month and it is meant to be a time to focus on the progress of the little island, south of the US, where, despite the best and worst attempts at destabilisation by its much bigger and stronger neighbour, some form of socialism has been practised since the early 1960s.
Locally, July is also important. Ashley Kriel, a young freedom fighter from Bonteheuwel, was killed on July 9, 1987, and his comrades, Coline Williams and Robert Waterwich, were killed two years later, on July 23, 1989, in what appeared to have been an explosion gone wrong.
July is the month when some of the leadership of the ANC and its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, outside Johannesburg. The events of July 11, 1963, led to the Rivonia Trial where Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba and Elias Motsoaledi were sentenced to life in prison on four counts, including sabotage and furthering the objectives of communism. Ahmed Kathrada was found guilty of conspiracy and also sentenced to life.
Nowadays July is special for most people throughout the world because of the birthday of Nelson Mandela on July 18. Mandela, who died on December 5, 2013, would have been 101 this year.
Mandela Day, as his birthday has become known, is celebrated in many countries and it gives an opportunity for many to do good, often for 67 minutes, in remembrance of the number of years of his life Mandela dedicated to public service.
It is always interesting for me to see how many people pick and choose from Mandela’s legacy what they wish to celebrate and remember.
Most people choose to remember only reconciliation, but reconciliation came after a lifetime of resistance against apartheid and colonial crimes in South Africa, and fierce resistance to all forms of oppression and exploitation. Mandela said, famously, at the Rivonia Trial, and he repeated part of it on the day of his release, Sunday, February 11, 1990: “During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
What I took out of this speech was his undying commitment to public service, as well as his understanding of non-racialism. Mandela, through his speeches and actions, showed us what it meant to be a servant leader. It was never about him; it was always about what would be in the best interest of the people he was meant to represent. He was prepared to give his life in pursuance of the freedom of all South Africans.
Mandela understood that, when he became the president of the country, he was no longer merely the head of the major political party. He had to represent all the people of South Africa. Mandela understood that we all needed to work together. It will take more than 67 minutes, hours, days, months and maybe even years. The best way to pay tribute to Mandela is to help realise the non-racial society that he spoke about in his Rivonia Trial speech.
* Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media.
** Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.