For the last week I have been told that today I have to dedicate 67 minutes of my time to humanity. I have to act like Nelson Mandela for those minutes. Channel him, be inspired by him and find in myself what so easily resounds in him. The United Nations have formally declared the 18th of July to be Mandela Day and in South Africa many places will be celebrating and supporting this new initiative.
It is often lamented at funerals that people are only truly appreciated after they have passed; that the words which are spoken in eulogies would never be said the living. Maybe this is because living people are fallible and imperfect. They make mistakes, say the wrong things and hurt others. It is only once they have died that they become a memory that will be static – frozen in time. Most mistakes are forgiven, their achievements are hailed and they are given their appropriate place in history. Big or small, prominent or totally irrelevant, every person shuffles into their allotted place in earth’s eternal narrative.
The accolades which can be bestowed on Tata Madiba are endless – I would not deny him that. But the national enforcement of this new initiative leaves me feeling slightly uncomfortable. I remember when July 18th was just a celebration of his birthday. When we would have a special assembly at school and eat chocolate cake on the field. Now there is the added requirement that we have to fulfil for this humble man who has lived outside of the public eye for many years. And along with the few who will devote 67 minutes to this initiative, there will be many who will not. Either out of time constraints, forgetfulness or pure apathy many will be left feeling slightly guilty at the end of today. A day which used to just be about celebrating a birthday and remembering that the day marks the entry into the world of our first black president, has become tainted with expectation and requirements.
What extra burden must this place on an already frail and aging man? There have been many great leaders in our history ranging from Biko and Hani to Madiba and Bishop Tutu. Their roles have been important but there has always been an acknowledgement that it is our country, as a whole, that is the real example to others. It was the people who brought about change, rallied behind leaders and provided the fuel to drive our country into democracy. This new initiative makes a part out to be greater than the whole and places extra burden and expectation on a man who has already given us his life.
So, today I will not be dedicating 67 minutes of my time to this initiative; not out of malice, but rather because I will be celebrating his 92nd birthday.
Happy Birthday Day, Madiba. Thank you for everything you have done for us.