Published in City Press 21 July 2013
We celebrated Nelson Mandela International Day on the 18th July. Everyone had their chance to give back for 67 minutes, and maybe you got to feel part of something special. We, along with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, started a Nationwide Hand s Across South Africa campaign, just to get the day started. No matter where you were or who you were with, we all could join hands and make a positive gesture of togetherness and solidaity – express our shared hopes and dreams for the future in a simple, human ritual.
It may not seem like much, but many peaceful protests and symbolic gatherings of unity have shown that the conscious action of many in concert can bring down regimes, further a just cause and marshall a collective will in a very powerful sense. At very least they can be the beginning of something that can (in the modern lingo) ‘go viral’ and start a movement. South Africa is emotionally ripe for a positive, coordinated opportunity to move forward.
Madiba’s instruction was that it was now in our hands, and I took that very literally. We shake hands when we greet someone as our equal, we use our hands to wave, to embrace, to pull someone up when they’re down. Like our voices and our expression, our hands are what we use in communication, in connecting with other people. Churchill’s V for victory, the peace sign; the black power salute, the hands clasped in prayer – our hands seem to be an integral part of how we express ourselves and imbue important activity with meaning. When you hold someone’s hand, you’re in it together.
Some people on Facebook and Twitter were not of like mind: Here’s what someone called Milan said: “I’m just curious, after holding hands, whats do we do next? And what have we achieved? This has to be one of the more useless things we’re doing as a nation.”. Milan is probably masturbating for 67 minutes today, and considers that his contribution. Francois, sensitive chap, said: “The day they switch off the machines…”. Obviously Francois is the kind of guy you love getting stuck opposite at one of those nightmare dinner parties full of negative people. Alida took the time to say “bla bla bla” but couldn’t spare 67 seconds to take part in something positive. Pretty thinks she should have all the attention: “Haai we tired of Mandela geeeeez nowadays its all about him…”. I have no doubt all of these people spend more than 67 minutes a day complaining about South Africa. If you asked them, they would also fail to see they’re part of the problem. This is what we still have to deal with.
South Africans are emotionally extreme. We either feel like we’re part of the greatest nation on earth, or that we’re totally worthless. It’s a case of National, chronic schizophrenia. Our self-esteem is so bad that we have to base our euphoria on one-off events like elections, World Cup sports finals and funerals; and we find every excuse to criticize, denigrate and turn every happy intention sour. Not all of us, mind you – and not even a majority. A small group of grumpy, bitter and twisted people who love a fight more than a hug (or didn’t get enough hugs when they were little) try to poison the country’s well with bile and excrement. Well I think it’s high time we encourage them to pack for Antarctica – or Australia – and we stop trying to reconcile with them. Some people are too far gone to be a part of our shared future and would be better off feeling like immigrants in a foreign land than angry, isolated natives. In a world where connecting with other human beings is the key to success and happiness, some still have a laager mentality.
I believe civilization is a real thing, and that every person’s contribution is essential. If you can’t join hands with your neighbor for 67 seconds, if you can’t do something for someone else for 67 minutes and use the best excuse in the world – a man like Madiba – as a reason to shelve your cynicism, then perhaps you’re irrelevant and the tribe has moved on, leaving you as a footnote in our history.
Let’s make every day a Mandela Day!