Picture by: Frank Gunn/AP

I have a personal matter to publicly disclose. Since the inception of Mandela Day, I have deliberately chosen not to participate in the various public acts of charity.
I confess that I viewed Mandela Day’s 67 minutes as some sort of media gimmick that legitimised false consciousness. It provided an opportunity for the elite to soothe their guilt without changing society.

For me, actions that are focused on ridding ourselves of inequality within society are a lot more important than these boastful, public, once-off acts of charity.

Back when I was in university, I could not bring myself to participate in the annual festivities of Rag, where students would have drunken festivals based on the ruse of raising money for the poor.

I felt that if as students we wanted to get drunk we should not use the plight of the poor as an excuse.

This year seemed different. Not just because 2018 is the centenary celebration of Madiba, but what has been vexing me is that for the past couple of years so many people, especially young people, have referred to Madiba as a sell-out, as a veritable Uncle Tom who preferred the respect of his enemies more than the people.

It did, indeed, come to a noisy crescendo of sorts with the passing away of Mama Winnie. Social media was awash not just with anger towards the apartheid regime, but also against Madiba.

It was like he sold out South Africa as he had supposedly sold out Winnie Mandela.

And in my estimation, this liberal feel-good bubble-gum moment of 67 minutes seemed to neatly reinforce this message that Madiba was not necessarily a freedom fighter, but just a nice old man who was acceptable to racist white people. I honestly felt that this was so unfair. Our memory of Madiba cannot be this simple.

We should never have allowed his memory to be one of hollow acts of welfare and charity for one day in a year. But in truth, we have. Ordinary South Africans, like myself, have allowed Madiba’s revolutionary message of love to become one of “love thy neighbour” or “forgive and forget”. We have allowed Madiba’s memory to mean that we should not be angry. We should not press for change.

Indeed, even those South Africans who were calling Madiba a monkey or baboon, who were trying to trace family in Britain or Australia so that they were not under a government led by Madiba, today talk about Madiba in such reverential terms, because they do not regard Madiba or his example as a threat to their racist and prejudiced ways.

We, the progressive people of South Africa ,have let Madiba and his memory down. We have made the memory of Madiba become somewhat narrowly the absence of hatred and anger.

He has become like Father Christmas, a nice old man.

Barack Obama, even though we can also take issue with his own compromises when he served as president of the US, seems to better understand, than South Africans, the rather revolutionary morality of Madiba.

Obama said the following at the memorial lecture: “Mandela and the movement he led would come to signify something larger.

“He came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs.”

Madiba best exemplifies revolutionary morality. After negotiations at Codesa had stalled again, around 1992-93, our country was on a precipice. None of us actually believed that there will be a peaceful outcome.

Madiba, long before most others had begun to realise that the longer negotiations continued, the less chance we had of political liberation. For instance, Cosatu called for protests against VAT, hardly anyone came out on to the streets.

The low-intensity warfare strategy of the apartheid regime and its lackeys meant ordinary poor South Africans were dying every day in the streets of KwaMashu, Tembisa, Boipatong, Sebokeng, and elsewhere. No matter how many times the matter was raised, the body count did not decrease.

The apartheid government harboured ambitions of having substantial self-governing territories for whites.

The (Afrikaner) right wing and the homeland leaders seemed to suggest that they could count on members of the defence force.

It became clear that, if we did not have an agreement, the liberation movement would lose the confidence of the people. Moreover, international support for the movement would wane, if we walked away from the negotiations table.

Wrongly or rightly, we would have looked belligerent, and I doubt we would have received military support to resume an armed struggle. History has vindicated Madiba. Negotiations over two other conflicts also began in that period: the British occupation of Northern Ireland and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Today, those conflicts are not resolved, and the people in those areas are worse off.

Madiba put aside his ego to place the needs of South Africans at the centre. It was a courageous act. Madiba didn’t fool himself that political liberation meant that South Africans were completely free, but they would be better off than under apartheid. Madiba regarded love and affection for South Africans as not an act of weakness but one of strength.

Today, though, South Africans behave like they hate each other. The violence against women and children is horrid. Violence and hatred is so prevalent. From road rage, to femicide, rape of toddlers, gang warfare, to drunk teachers, burglaries and theft in religious places of worship, and so much more. South Africans are angry, and do not know who to blame so they just hurt each other.

And as we talk to each other, we end up talking past one another. Each one wants to be heard over and above the other. Our racism and prejudice come flying out.

The hatred is palpable, you can almost touch it. We are quick to find that which divides us. We have forgotten, like Madiba taught us, that we love each other as South Africans, we care for each other and South Africa. 

But we have not just deteriorated as a people, our institutions have also rapidly been eroded. Madiba always reminded us that he was not a saint, and should not be regarded as one. We have bastardised that lesson, wherein we have chastised those who expect exemplary social and personal behaviour from our leaders.

At some stage in our democratic transition, we enjoyed saying that we do not expect our leaders to be priests. But by accepting that all of us are sinners, we have only succeeded in removing morality as an essential element of our conduct.

Such that as ProfessorPatrick Lumumba at another Madiba lecture at Walter Sisulu University, reminded us of how readily we have accepted immoral corrupt behaviour from leaders in the private and public sectors.

We expect courts of law to tell us how to behave.

It’s like Rihanna sings in her song Take A Bow, Don’t tell me you’re sorry cause you’re not. Baby when I know you’re only sorry you got caught.

The legal maxim, innocent until proven guilty, has been exploited for purposes of inaction. Madiba, like a latter day Socrates, cherished the ideals of the rule of law. He regarded the spirit of the law, not as a voluntary suggestion, but an obligation that we all should adhere to. Corruption is a selfish perversion of the rules.

It is an abuse of love and trust.

So this Madiba Day, I decided to spend my morning handing out flowers to strangers, telling them to spread love and care.

To stop the violence and remember to love ourselves as Madiba did. My fellow ordinary South Africans did not disappoint.

I got a hug from one person. Young people, especially young men, were very excited to get flowers. There was no homophobia. And every single person, young and old, woman and man, smiled at me with beautiful appreciation.

Che Guevara is reported to have said, “One has to grow hard but without ever losing tenderness.”

In memory of Madiba, I want us to spread a message of love, friendship and fellowship. Madiba understood us South Africans better than we did, we love to love it’s the most revolutionary act we can do.

* Williams is a strategic manager at the ANC’s headquarters. This is his personal view.

The Sunday Independent