By Tasneem Carrim
In 1990, the winds of change were slowly sweeping our nation, and on 11 February 1990 South Africa was abuzz with the news of the release of former President Nelson Mandela.
Having spent most of his adult life behind bars, Nelson Mandela was more myth than a man. He along with others such as OR Tambo were giant figures in our national psyche, but few people had ever seen or interacted with them.
On 11 February 1990 all this changed; with the eyes of the entire world upon us, South Africans waited with baited breath to meet the man behind the legend.
When Nelson Mandela finally emerged from the gates of the then Victor-Verster Prison in Cape Town he greeted the expectant crowd with a salute. The first steps he took as a free man energised the crowd, and the ripples of excitement echoed throughout our nation. With those first few steps, he broke the shackles of hundreds of years of oppression and set our nation on the path to freedom and democracy.
The release of Nelson Mandela signalled a turning point in our country; it set us on a new path and banished the evil apartheid system to the pages of history.
Those of us who lived through this jubilant and hopeful time in our nation would be forgiven for thinking at the time that freedom and democracy would cure all society’s ills. This was of course never going to be the case, and as we have since learned, democracy is a process, not a destination.
Many of the deep-rooted problems that we inherited such as poverty, inequality and unemployment continue to plague us today, and the many sins of the past still shape our shared future. Building a country from the ground up was never going to be easy, pre 1994 South Africa was the pariah of the world and technically bankrupt.
Nelson Mandela and our other leaders in 1994 recognised that to build anew we had to turn our diverse population into a strength. They recognised that we were better together, that we needed each other, and that working together we could begin to envision a new future together.
This process has continued unabated since 1994 and although we have undeniably made massive strides, much still needs to be done. We are therefore lucky to be able to call on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela to assist us as we strive to move South Africa forward. Throughout his life, he continually emphasised the need for national unity, social cohesion and nation building. This vision allowed us to emerge from the mire of apartheid into a free and democratic nation in 1994.
We should also never forget that our Constitution lays the foundation for an open society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.
Shaping a common and prosperous future therefore lies in our hands. Nelson Mandela famously said on the occasion of his 90th birthday at a concert in Hyde Park, London; “It’s in your hands now”.
This sentiment of all of us taking the lead in shaping the future we want to see is echoed in the annual commemoration of Mandela Month, where we are all called upon to work together for a better and equitable society for all.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Madiba’s passing in December 2013. To commemorate this, the Nelson Mandela Foundation has themed the 10-Year Remembrance call to action “The Legacy Lives on Through You”.
Some might well ask but how can I make a difference, or what can I do to build on a legacy of a person who was clearly extraordinary?
It is true that Madiba did great things and his legacy continues to inspire today. However, throughout his life he simply worked for the benefit of others and to better our nation.
We have that power as individuals and our actions can make massive changes. By living responsibly and indeed taking responsibility for our actions, we can make a difference. One area where we can all contribute is to help in keeping the lights on. Do the right thing and report metals theft and illegal connections, switch off the lights during peak consumption periods, refuse to buy stolen goods. These seemingly small and insignificant actions can make a massive difference, especially when multiplied across communities and our nation.
The same principle of communities and individuals looking out for each other apply in all aspects of life. Let us therefore build on Madiba’s legacy by staying true to our founding ideals of justice, equality and a non-racial South Africa. We have always been stronger when we are united and together we can begin to build a society where all people are given the chance to live their dreams.
By working together, we can find solutions to our growing social and economic challenges. South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and we have no choice but to move forward together to ensure a sustainable and vibrant future for all.
Government therefore calls on all South Africans to ensure that we live the ideal of ensuring that “The Legacy Lives on Through You”.
* Tasneem Carrim is the Chief Director of Policy and Research at the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS).