A slightly cynical look at a significant date on the country’s calendar
Words: Cayleigh Bright | Illustrations: Keyla Aufritching
Mandela Day is a tricky celebration to reckon with. If you're a vocal admirer of the man, then you might be troubled by the way that his personal history and the movement against Apartheid have been used to sell discounted plane tickets, limited-edition gold coins, and all manner of merch. If you find his legacy a little problematic, you may be troubled by the deification of a man who undoubtedly did plenty of good, but arguably sold out the struggle. Either way, it's easy to become tired of those who use a dead man's memory to push their own agendas, with tenuous links to actual history.
You might also just be annoyed that we don’t get a public holiday on July 18th.
Whatever your viewpoint, there's nothing wrong with a reminder to do better – whether that means doing some good deeds, being better-informed about local history, or becoming involved in the causes changing the country for the better.
A is for Activism
While the idea of Nelson Mandela tends to be diluted until all that’s left is a smiling, grandfatherly figure who just loved peace above all else, it’s worth remembering that his legacy is one of activism. If you want to become more involved in fighting for what you believe in – and against the many injustices still existing in South Africa today – awareness is the first step. Learn about the organisations fighting for equal education, sustainable housing solutions and gender justice, then get involved where you can.
B is for Black Consciousness
Black Lives Matter is a US-based movement, but no discussion of Apartheid's legacy is complete without an understanding of why a call to value black lives is as relevant today as it ever was. 'B' is also for 'Biko', who was killed in police custody in 1977 and is known for his anti-Apartheid activism through Black Consciousness ideology. Like Mandela, he's not an unproblematic figure, but his life and viewpoints are worth reading up on.
C is for Charity
And that’s what Mandela Day is essentially about – lending a helping hand to those who need it most.
D is for Democracy
And that’s what South Africa became on 27 April, 1994, when the country’s first democratic elections were held.
E is for Every Day
Sorry to be that person, but this is just the beginning – snapping a picture of yourself doing a good deed is one thing, but committing to a cause is another. Consider July 18th to be just the beginning.
F is for Freedom
Nelson Mandela was freed from jail on 11 February 1990, and immediately became a symbol of liberation. After all, campaigners around the world had been fighting for this for years, and after 27 years behind bars, an icon of the struggle against discrimination in general and Apartheid specifically could finally walk free.
G is for Giving
Some would argue that volunteering is the most valuable way to give, but the fact remains that organisations need money to keep doing good. Of course, that’s not all you can give – donating blood is valuable, as is giving away items you no longer use to charities who’ll give them to people in need or sell them to raise funds.
H is for Hout Bay
Just one of the areas recently affected by fire – and the worst-hit – Hout Bay could really use your help at the moment. Thula Thula Hout Bay helps the area’s residents in times of crisis, and needs donations and volunteers to join its registry.
I is for Initiative
If you’re not inspired by the ideas we’ve provided here, we won’t take it personally – you might just be the creative thinker that July 18th needs. Think about who you’d most like to help this week, find out what they need, and get your friends or colleagues involved. Whether it’s a cleanup of your area, making care packages to donate to people in need or organising a bakeoff in aid of charity, there's no time like right now to get creative for a good cause.
J is for Justice
Apartheid’s justice system saw Nelson Mandela sentenced to a life in prison where he narrowly avoided a death sentence. A good way to honour his legacy (and he was in the legal profession himself, after all) is supporting the organisations who provide legal advice and support to those who need it most. The Women’s Legal Centre aims to help women – particularly black women – to receive protection and achieve equality, while the Legal Resources Centre works towards justice for the marginalised, poor, homeless and landless. Ndifuna Ukwazi provides legal support to social justice initiatives, particularly those seeking sustainable, low-cost housing in cities: one way to repair the damage done by Apartheid's divisive policies.
K is for Knowledge
Okay, just one quick quote: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela. Whether or not education is the cause that you choose to support this Mandela Day (see what we advise under the letter “U” in this article), it’s worth educating yourself by reading up on our country’s history.
L is for Legacy
Whether you’re an ardent fan of Mandela or not, it’s pretty easy to find a few Mandela Day-themed campaigns that feel kind of icky around July 18th. If it’s priced at R67, or R6700, or there are 67 000 available, it’s probably part of the problem, and not really honouring the man’s memory as it pretends to.
M is for The Mandela Effect
You're halfway through this article. Feel like taking a break to find a new conspiracy theory and potentially fall down a Wikipedia wormhole? Google “The Mandela Effect” to learn about the fairly out-there thinking that either backs up the idea of alternate universes, or is just a lot of people trying to justify not being very good at remembering things in general and spelling in particular.
N is for Nelson Mandela Foundation
All you need to do is SMS “Madiba” to 42607 to donate R30 to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Now, how are you going to spend the other sixty-six minutes and thirty seconds?
O is for Oliver Tambo
Ready for some more history? Oliver Tambo was Nelson Mandela’s partner at the pair’s legal firm – the first black-owned law firm in the country.
P is for Prisoners
While remembering Nelson Mandela’s time behind bars, spare a thought for the men and women imprisoned today under a pretty problematic system. Rehabilitation programmes aren’t perfect, but with a 65% drop in the re-offending rate among participants, Young in Prison South Africa is making a real difference. You could also give to Babies Behind Bars, helping mothers raising children in prison, or Readucate, whose drive to beat illiteracy includes programmes in prisons.
Q is for quotes
Nelson Mandela had plenty of wise words, so it makes sense that they’re quoted quite a bit, but it can be a little weird seeing selected excerpts from his speeches being used to support ideals quite opposite to his own. This Mandela Day, do everyone a favour by avoiding the use of Madiba quotes to justify let's-all-just-get-along thinking where action is needed – and while we’re at it, let’s leave Martin Luther King and Gandhi out of this.
R is for Rape Crisis
Visit the organisation's website to donate to this essential service, or find out how to volunteer.
U is for University
27 years is a long time, and some of Mandela’s comrades were imprisoned for even longer. To make the best of the time, Mandela encouraged prisoners to lecture and debate on topics of their choice. If education is a topic close to your heart, now’s a good time to think about paying off the fees of a student in need, or donating to a school near you.
V is for Voting, as well as Volunteering
Both are vitally important. Exercise your democratic right to vote next time you get the chance, and remember how hard-won it was. You can check your voter registration details right now, and find out how to get registered if you aren't already.
W is for Women and Children
If you’d like to help survivors of abuse, the Saartjie Baartman Centre is a good place to start.
X is for Xhosa
Named Rolihlahla as a child, Mandela was born into the Xhosa-speaking Madiba clan of the abaThembu people.
Y is for Youth
Like Mandela Day, Youth Day tends to be treated as more of a fun promotional opportunity than a day to remember history or do any hard work towards the future. Like Youth Day, Mandela Day is a good opportunity to get involved with charities taking care of our country’s smallest citizens. Why not start with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund?
Z is for the names of at least two prominent politicians...
...and any number of leaders laying claim to the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the struggle for freedom in SA. Get the knowledge you need to form your own ideas about the facts, or prepare to be swayed by opinions from all sides.