“‘Palace politics’ would have us believing that we all hate one another but it isn’t true. South Africans are incredibly kind to one another. We actually care a lot about one another.” Marianne Thamm made this remark as encouragement to a writing group a few days ago and it struck such a chord with me. Few things show how kind we are and how much we care about one another as much as Mandela Day does.
The day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, a year after the Nelson Mandela Foundation invited the global community to join them in support of an official Mandela Day. Mandela Day is not meant as a public holiday but as a day to honour the legacy of Nelson Mandela and his values through volunteering and community service. It is a global call to action that celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world and the ability to make an impact. The Mandela Day campaign message is: “Nelson Mandela has fought for social justice for 67 years. We’re asking you to start with 67 minutes.”
This year for the second year in a row the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust invited members of the public to come and pack care packs for rape survivors with us as a way of contributing 67 minutes of their time to fighting for social justice for rape survivors. With rape statistics in South Africa as high as ever people flocked to the doors and we saw over 450 people over the course of the day. Since many people turn away from even thinking about the horror of rape we have a difficult time popularising our issues, so we were deeply moved by the turnout. We were even more amazed by the spirit on the day. Everyone was very much aware of the suffering of survivors as they chose the items needed for each pack and wrote notes of encouragement to survivors. Yet at the same time people really enjoyed coming together, talking, laughing and genuinely having fun decorating their cards and care pack bags. The festive atmosphere and the sense of being on an outing together with friends or family while supporting a great cause is what makes this an event to look forward to in years to come.
Each pack contains toiletries and a change of underwear so that rape survivors are able to have a bath or shower immediately after their forensic examination where their underwear is taken away for DNA analysis as evidence of the rape. Clean and a little more comfortable they can then give a more detailed statement to the police and go home. Many speak about how this small physical comfort brought them a great deal of emotional relief and support.
As for those that came to pack these care packs they said:
“For me, Mandela Day basically means giving back and remembrance for a great leader and a great humanitarian. Giving back by dedicating my time is an act of kindness.”
“The significance of Mandela Day is important in South Africa because it teaches the nation to give to others, even if it is not financially. There is no better day than today to contemplate the role each and every one of us can play in making sure we do not fail on that count.”
This year our care pack bags were sewn by a group of rape survivors working at the Change a Life Rape Crisis Centre sponsored by Computershare’s Mike Thompson Change a Life Foundation. They know more than anyone how valuable these bags can be. They have also made them beautiful were there to sell bags as they explore making sewing part of their livelihoods. The sewing materials and care pack contents were donated by the Western Cape Department of Social Development. This three way partnership between business, a social profit organisation and government belies the message pervading the current political mood: in fact we can work together to make things better because we really do care for one another. And it gives us joy to do so.
By Kathleen Dey, director at the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.