South Africans celebrated Mandela Day on 18 July, giving back 67 minutes in service of others. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya assesses the vast sums raised for political and cultural activities. He suggests they be repurposed to serve society’s most vulnerable.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s efforts to ward off questions around the hundreds of millions of rand his campaign team raised to win the top ANC position has created quite the stir.
Against this backdrop, South Africa and the world celebrated Mandela Day on Thursday, 18 July 2019, to commemorate the birthday of its cherished former President Nelson Mandela. Individuals and organisations were encouraged to give 67 minutes of their time to honour Madiba’s 67 years of service to the nation.
The two realities could not be more different.
In the first, one individual spends vast amounts of money to oil the right connections and secure political power. In the other, tens of thousands ordinary individuals, maybe more, give of their time and their own limited resources to serve others.
A fine example of such service was shown by the parishioners at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in the southern suburb of La Rochelle, Johannesburg. Together with Pablo Velasquez, a Scalabrinian missionary-priest serving the parish, they spent Mandela Day living out Christian charity, showing care for their neighbour.
Parishioners and priest packed food parcels and delivered them to two communities — one consisting mainly of refugees and asylum seekers, and the other of internally displaced migrants — who were forced out of their home after their residential building in central Johannesburg was condemned by local authorities.
The two communities now live side-by-side in neighbouring Turffontein.
The contrast between Mandela Day and the revelations by South Africa’s Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane that Ramaphosa and/or his campaign team had raised massive sums of money is worth reflecting upon. Not least because it demonstrates the value we place on our sense of good.
If individual citizens are able to raise hundreds of millions of rand to promote one person’s political aspirations, why can’t we apply the same zeal to the intended beneficiaries of Mandela Day — those most disadvantaged in our society — and to other social justice activities?
The scale of determining where we place our value, clearly shown in the fundraising effort of Ramaphosa’s campaign benefactors, is what some have been referring to as a “Notre-Dame moment”.
The sudden commitment of cash donations by individuals to rebuild the French cathedral, damaged by a fire earlier this year, has been much talked about and criticised.
Religious and secular commentators remarked on how easy it was for the rich to be moved by the destruction of an ancient — albeit one that contains a deep spiritual and national identity — while appearing to remain unmoved by the plight of millions of marginalised people.
Similarly, why do wealthy and well-placed individuals not think twice about donating absurd quantities of money to promote the political ambitions of one man? More, how can we be so leaden-footed when it comes to helping the poor escape their desperate poverty?
Their response is often that it is their money and they can choose to spend it as they see fit. That’s fair enough.
Nonetheless, this approach becomes questionable when politicians — especially just ahead of elections season — approach society’s most vulnerable pledging that they are campaigning to improve the lot of the poor.
Yet for the most part, once they come to power, the campaign-millions raised have no direct impact on the lives of the poor to whom they had pledged themselves. Instead, they must make-do with far-from-sufficient social grants and the humble, heartfelt efforts of the likes of the parishioners and priest at St Patrick’s.