Letter from Hobeni, 5th December 2014.

Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela Freedom March, Glasgow, 12th June 1988

This is the time for the initiation ceremonies.   Boys of fifteen, caked in white clay, are taken to the initiation hut to be prepared for the ceremonies to teach them to be men.   They will go through a period of seclusion and rigorous training in the responsibilities of men for their community and people.   Then they will be circumcised, and will become men.

One man emerged from this process eighty years ago, giving a lifetime in the service of his people and teaching the whole world about the responsibilities of leadership.   His name was Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela.   He died one year ago and people in South Africa are wondering about the durability of his legacy.

I do not wonder.   In Hobeni it is all around me.   It is in the detail of people’s lives.

20 years ago, on 27th April 1994, all the people of South Africa went to vote in their first democratic elections.   It changed their lives.   Being cynical, you could argue that change has been introduced because the government wishes to be re-elected to retain its hold on power.   I do not believe that.   People elected a government that wishes to change their lives.   It may not always succeed but it tries, and it has succeeded in so much.

20 years ago, one in five children in this area died before the age of five, of preventable diseases.   That is no longer the case.   The Donald Woods Foundation is in the forefront of this, with its preventative health campaign, “Health in Every Hut”.   There was the tragedy of HIV/AIDs treatment, but that has been dealt with through democratic action.   The health of ordinary people has improved considerably over the last 20 years, because treatments are now available, when previously they were not.   An extraordinary legacy.

20 years ago, the Bantu education system ensured that black children did not receive adequate education giving them the skills that they need.   That is no longer the case.   Again, the Donald Woods Foundation is taking a lead in this area, working with schools to improve facilities.   There is still a lot of work to be done, but the evidence of the improvements is before my eyes.   It is the young people working for the Foundation, using ICT and other skills to help improve the lives of their fellow citizens.   An extraordinary legacy.

20 years ago, most houses did not have access to electricity and clean water.   That is changing.   It may not happen as fast as many people would wish, but it is happening.   New housing is being built.   Electricity and clean water are being made available.   The demand for electricity has increased so much that there are power outages across the whole country because the system cannot cope.   This is not good enough, but it is better than 20 years ago when most people did not have access to electricity.   People now have clean water in, or near, their houses.   20 years ago, they did not have this.   An extraordinary legacy.

There are so many ways in which the lives of people have changed.   They do not carry passes.   They can sit where they like.   They can travel on any bus or train.   They can marry who they like.    So many changes.

This is not just Mandela’s legacy.   It is the legacy of every campaigner against apartheid across the whole world.   If we wish this legacy to continue we must work for it.   So, in that resonant South African phrase, “let us take up the spear” and continue Mandela’s work.   If you want to see his legacy, look in the mirror and ask yourself what you can do today to improve human dignity.   Then do it.

Mandela, Mara Louw and Brian Filling, 9th October 1993


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