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Mandela Day: Time to effect change differently

Sello Hatang, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Sello Hatang, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Image: Antonio Muchave

During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a global commitment to end Apartheid. Funding for civil society was more generous than it is now. When democracy was ushered in, however, and the threat of a bloodbath in SA was successfully averted, global funding moved from civil society towards the government.

Arguably, civil society is more visible today than it was 20 years ago and criticism of its mandate, accountability and funding remains. In the midst of it all, poverty and inequality have grown.

The problems of today look far more intractable than they did in the 1990s.

Many of us remain landless. Many of us are afraid to leave our homes after dark - if we have homes at all. Many of us are excluded from the self-actualisation which formal education promises. All of us are victims of theft from government corruption and mismanagement. The question haunting all of us is: Where to now?

In an effort to unravel the crisis of poverty and inequality, the Mandela Initiative was launched to thoroughly investigate the causes of the crisis and build models of what solutions might look like.

The initiative delivered its final report in September 2018, detailing the extent of the crisis and proposing models to overcome it.

Drawing from the report, the 2015 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture delivered by Professor Thomas Piketty and lessons learnt from the past 10 years of the Mandela Day campaign, the foundation resolved to implement a new strategy for Nelson Mandela International Day. Mandela Day was introduced to the world by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in 2009 to commemorate the birthday of Nelson Mandela and the lifetime of service he gave to SA and to the world. As Madiba said during his 90th year: "It is in your hands now."

Some of the critique of the campaign has identified the trap of "do-gooding". It just isn't enough for privileged people to take action against poverty for an hour and seven minutes on July 18 each year. That will not change systems and structures.

At the same time, the legacy upon which the day has been built has also been contested, especially by young generations insisting on more radical interventions.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation's new strategy, Mandela Day: The Next Chapter, is a commitment to creating a sustainable impact against poverty and its underlying causes. Of course, Mandela Day is a brand in its own right - a call to action, a message. It will continue to invite people around the world to interpret Madiba's legacy in their own way and to honour him by doing voluntary work with a social justice focus in their communities.

Moving forward, this broad scope for the global dimensions of the campaign will be maintained. We will rely on a network of partners both to promote the campaign and to provide it with issue-based focus in specific countries and other contexts.

Within SA, however, the campaign's focus areas will relate directly to critical social issues emerging either from research and analysis or from dialogue and other forms of community engagement.

While the broad appeal and the inclusiveness of the campaign will remain in place, the foundation is systematically harnessing the campaign as a tool for social justice.

In the first 10 years of the campaign in SA, the foundation concentrated on facilitating processes, including resource mobilisation for a wide range of projects.

These, we believe, will teach us new ways of doing things.

On a monthly basis, for example, the foundation convenes a meeting with early childhood development forums in Gauteng. This is borne out of our commitment to elevating grassroots and community voices and ensuring that the lives of people who are affected by policy should be included in discussions that affect their lives - our watchword has to be "nothing about us, without us".

Ensuring sustainability has to be a key objective in the social justice space. It isn't enough to try and do more. We have to do differently.

- Hatang is chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

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