[lg policy] Nelson Mandela's centenary should be a year of radical transformation

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Feb 2 10:37:15 EST 2018


-- 
Nelson Mandela's centenary should be a year of radical transformation
2018-02-02
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*Sello Hatang*

As an organisation with a clear mandate to promote the legacy of Nelson
Mandela, the Foundation carries a special responsibility as we enter the
year marking the centenary of Madiba's birth.

It cannot be a time of focusing only on his life – 2018 is full of other
significant anniversaries, from the 25th anniversary of both Chris Hani's
assassination and the 1993 negotiated settlement to the centenary of Ma
Sisulu's birth.

Already the year has seen us mourning the losses of four prominent South
Africans who strove for excellence and made their mark in contributing to
the realisation of a truly liberated South Africa - bo-ntate Keorapetse
Kgositsile, Hugh Masekela and actor Sandy Mokwena (popularly known as Bra
Eddie on TV), and Mme Rica Hodgson. We hope their passing can serve as a
reminder that transformative change can come through the sounds of music,
art that challenges us and the ink of a poet.

As we ask South Africans to "Be the Legacy" in 2018, it means using our
gifts and tools, wherever we are stationed in life, in a way that
dismantles the unequal structures of power and protects the most vulnerable.

2018 should also not be the year of simply celebrating Madiba. For the
Foundation it has to be primarily about continuing his work. He and his
generation of leadership had enormous impact and contributed much. But
there remains unfinished business.

Through the centenary year the focus of the Foundation's endeavour will be
in three main areas – fighting poverty and inequality, striving to
eradicate the scourge of racism, and reckoning with our country's
oppressive pasts.

We take to heart the critique of NGOs offered by Chief Justice Mogoeng
Mogoeng – while there is a need and a role for NGOs related to the
socio-political contingencies of the day, their calling is to address the
deep structural dimensions of oppression which South Africa has only begun
to grapple with.

Recent events at the Overvaal school illustrate this well. It is too easy
to jump in to situations like this, to demand quick-fix solutions and to
use the vulnerable (in this instance young children) in the frontlines.

In my own engagements with Overvaal, including a visit to the school, I
realised that many advocates of change aren't really interested in
including African languages in the curriculum, but rather in promoting the
dominance of English.

Equally, constructive discussion has been undermined by those who perceive
multilingualism as a threat to their 'way of life'. Communities can be
brought together by the flourishing of multilingual schools. But this has
been hampered by language policies that do not put adequate pressure on
institutions to use more than one of South Africa's eleven official
languages.

Language is crucial. It is through language that communities interact and
integrate and build social cohesion. And it is through language that we
find liberation. This is why Madiba prioritised it and strove for a
strategy that would be inclusive.

I am reminded of his words: "We do not want to abolish any language; we
want to raise the African languages which have been side-lined through the
policy of apartheid to equality with English and Afrikaans. That doesn't
mean to say that we are actually downgrading Afrikaans and English; we are
merely saying that the other languages must be put on the same basis."

South Africa has waited too long for radical transformation. For too long
we have been held back by the normalisation of the abnormal and the embrace
of mediocrity. For too long we have been betrayed by leadership at all
levels and in all sectors which has prioritised self-enrichment rather than
societal liberation.

I welcome the signs that 2018 has already given us of a sea-change in this
scenario. From hearings in Parliament to investigations by security
structures, from commissions of enquiry to disciplinary interventions
within institutions, we are seeing those in positions of public trust being
held accountable.

In many ways this represents an insistence that nothing less than
excellence is acceptable. May 2018 be remembered as the year in which
radical transformation gained traction in our beloved country.

Not just as a populist slogan but a call to action for doing differently!

- Hatang is the chief executive officer of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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