The superficiality of the 67 minutes of charity that people offer one day a year on Mandela Day and how far this is from Mandela’s legacy of changing attitudes and addressing inequality in our country were a hot topic for media commentators last year. Will their message be heeded in 2015?
Critics protested that the privileged classes, politicians and corporations “tick a box” for 67 minutes, then ignore the country’s structural inequalities for the rest of the year. They argued that these random handouts do not empower communities in the long run or drive lasting change at an organisational level but merely serve to appease the conscience.
Mandela’s legacy has not survived. There is vast inequality between black and white, rich and poor, the well-educated and the poorly educated, between men and women. 67 minutes do not address the structural causes of inequality that he fought against. We as citizens have become immune to these inequalities yet they are the country’s biggest problem.
In the face of this the general feeling is that Mandela Day is a media-driven, “feel good” day of sentimentality. Politicians use the day as a photo opportunity and a moment to be seen as one of “the people”. Celebrities use it for public relations and image building as they have fun while doing minimal work. The middle class lack awareness of the depth of the real issues and are blind to their own privilege so 67 minutes serves to ease their consciences. Mandela Day becomes an exercise in marketing and commercialism for business and the media. In the end it becomes a distraction from the larger, structural issues.
That being said the idea that citizens should “make every day a Mandela Day” is not an easy one to swallow. Making something part of the everyday runs the danger of increasing the very immunity and detachment with regard to the poor and those that suffer that we are trying to address.
This year the Nelson Mandela Foundation issued an appeal that called on people to remember “that special day of the year when we take the focus off the self and pledge our help to those around us to honour Madiba’s humanitarian legacy. Not as a gesture of charity, but as a call to justice.” The appeal made no distinction between small, individual acts and bigger gestures as long as the focus was on those in need of help.
Perhaps the answer lies in this: that the reason for our detachment is that average citizens don’t treat the poor as human, don’t engage, don’t get too close.
For these citizens here is a message: let Mandela Day be the start of your journey to get to know the people you want to help. Let it become an entry point to your longer term involvement with an organisation that works with people and communities in need and that works to bring about structural change. Everyone can pitch in to help including adults, youth and children. This generation might have failed but the next generation has the chance to make a difference if we show them how.
Mandela’s activism or activism as a daily activity on an organisational level against injustices is the province of South Africa’s vibrant social profit sector. There are many examples organisations that campaign and work for change all year round. To make your goodwill extend past July 18th and into everyday life support an organisation that does just that and use your 67 minutes on Mandela Day to join an ongoing campaign, to begin making consistent donations, to offer your expertise on a Board of Trustees or to sign up as a volunteer.
This year the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust will be packing care packs for rape survivors who undergo forensic examinations at a forensic unit to allow them to wash and change into clean underwear after all evidence of the rape has been collected for analysis as part of the police investigation of the crime and to be used as evidence in a court case against the rapist. You can spend your 67 minutes with an incredible group of people and you are allowed to have fun. You will also hear the testimony of a rape survivor and how she triumphed and learn more about the work we do to support rape survivors on the road to justice. Visit www.rapecrisis.org.za to sign up to our event, or to find out more about getting involved.
Director of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust