By Tswelopele Makoe
RECENT public events have drawn my attention to the importance of public participation and transformation in our society.
This past Tuesday, September 26, was the birthday of the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the “mother of the nation” as she was affectionately called.
The renowned anti-apartheid icon and social worker was revered for her conviction and endurance, particularly during the imprisonment of her husband Nelson Mandela. She was an impeccable leader in a time of strife and instability.
She was especially esteemed for her radical engagement with young black South Africans. On September 26th, on what would have been Mama Winnie’s 88th birthday, the day was marked by the renaming of the bustling William Nicol Drive in Johannesburg to Winnie Mandela Drive.
I couldn’t have been more proud to be a South African black woman. Needless to say, this event was exceptionally befitting of the Mother of the Nation. In fact, the honour was hugely overdue.
The occasion, led by the City of Johannesburg and the Premier of Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, was overshadowed by news of the passing of Zoleka Mandela, Winnie’s granddaughter. Zoleka was a distinguished young woman in her own right.
Beyond her striking beauty- just like her grandmother - she was a notable author and cancer activist. She was open about her lengthy battle against cancer, which led to her activism and advocacy for those with cancer.
The story of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is one that speaks to the agony and ruthlessness that was experienced by people of colour during the apartheid era. She was a fierce leader of the South African liberation movement, fighting for racial equality and gender equity.
Furthermore, her story exemplifies the resilience, adaptability, and astuteness of the survivors of apartheid in general. I am immensely glad that the name Winnie Mandela has been immortalized.
It is a richly deserved tribute to a truly unique mom who dared apartheid and proved that there was nothing omnipotent about the evil system.
Also this past week, an SABC News interview with the Black Consciousness stalwart, Prof Saths Cooper, shone a welcome light on the life and times of Steve Bantu Biko.
Following the anniversary of the murder of Biko on September 12 -the acclaimed father of Black Consciousness with whom Prof Cooper fought apartheid – I found the SABC interview on the current affairs programme Unfiltered a remarkable reflection on the life of the iconic Biko.
To listen to the testimony on Biko by one of his closest companions was enriching. The anecdotal reflections by Prof Cooper highlighted the plight of the leaders of the liberation struggle and their momentous contributions that have shaped the freedoms of our contemporary society.
In my recent article about Biko, I underscored the value and pervasiveness of Black Consciousness in shaping the identity of Black people, both contemporarily and generationally.
A chillingly striking moment in the interview with Prof Cooper was his reiteration of the disappointment that Biko would have felt viewing our current society, our current leadership, and our unity as a nation.
Sobukwe, Hani, Tambo, and Biko, among many others, are the notable names of countless young and older Africans who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of this country, and our collective futures.
It is imperative that we do not sideline the momentous contribution of innumerable members of our society in achieving the freedoms that we enjoy today. They paved the way for the liberation of South Africa, not only politically, but socially, culturally, and economically.
Also during this past week of interesting newsworthy events, the final episode of “Nkalakatha: The Life of Mandoza”, aired on BET Africa. This dramatized depiction of the late musical icon’s life was not only impassioned but meticulous in its execution.
A stellar performance by Wiseman Ncube and Lorraine Moropa - playing Mandoza and his wife Mpho respectively, was praised across various digital platforms. It was particularly invaluable to have the narrative of a local icon, who shaped the genre of Kwaito during its formidable years, being depicted in such an authentic manner.
Nkalakatha, Mandoza’s smash hit, was celebrated across all races and genders. His music brought people of all races together in a positive way in the initial stages of democracy. It used a distinctly African expression and experience to consolidate our fractured and highly vulnerable society.
It was key in proliferating the Kwaito genre and unifying our society in an enjoyable manner. Furthermore, the consolidation that came about as a result of Nkalakatha was perfectly aligned with the values of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Former President Nelson Mandela, in the formulation of a united rainbow nation.
His music was a point of unification in a widely diverse national context, and at a time when Black people were unlikely to achieve such a feat. It was extremely gratifying to hear the year 2000’s hit song blasted at the Springboks match against Romania, showing the value and relevance of his message and his music to this day.
These three examples above – Winnie, Biko, and Mandoza, led me to think about how certain individuals have impacted the country, be it through their intellect, artistic expression, or marked sacrifice.
All of these people have left their mark on society and have contributed to the future of the people. It is pertinent that our society begins to follow in the footsteps of such leaders, and confidently contribute their unique gifts to the betterment of their people and their society.
Ancient Athens philosophers used to single out the importance of participating in public discourse. They implored citizens to contribute their thoughts to the formulation of the society they envisioned.
They recognised that everybody in society has a contribution to make, to shaping lives for the better – not only as a community but also as individuals. In fact in ancient Athens, philosophers loathed anyone who failed to participate in public discourse and described such people as “good for nothing”.
As Heritage Month bids us farewell, I appeal to everyone in our nation to consider the ways in which they can make an impact, and promote the betterment of their own future. As Albert Einstein pragmatically pointed out: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” We need each other. Together we can do more.
Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.