Maverick Citizen Newsletter Editorial

Realising Nelson Mandela’s Vision: Yes We Can!

Nelson Mandela. (Photo: EPA / Debbie Yazbek)

Tomorrow, the results of the National Income Dynamics Survey: Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) study will be released. They will show that the social harm caused by the lockdown and the Covid-19 health emergency is far deeper and more damaging than previous estimates. But, paradoxically, Covid-19 presents us with an opportunity to make reparations for South Africa’s racially divided past, to rebuild trust, and to create safe neighbourhoods that erect an invisible barrier of community and solidarity against Covid-19 and the poverty it is unleashing.

Last Friday afternoon Maverick Citizen relayed an urgent call by doctors and activists for funds to purchase oxygenators that could be used to equip beds at the Covid-19 field hospital in Nasrec. By the next morning the oxygen concentrators had been purchased as a result of donations

Over the weekend a team of volunteers were trained by doctors who were themselves volunteering to provide support to other doctors and nurses at the same field hospital. Yesterday patients began to arrive, referred down from Helen Joseph Hospital and freeing up high care beds there.

In May, as the lockdown was biting at empty stomachs, Maverick Citizen featured a story about the food kitchen set up by local activists in Alexandra to feed hungry children in their community, and relayed an appeal for help with the purchase of a few big pots. Today, as a result of readers’ generosity, the kitchen at Londani Lushaka is fully equipped and continues to feed up to 600 children a day.

Yesterday we featured a story about a “well-being economy” that activists from the Makers Valley Partnership in Johannesburg are working to develop to meet the communities’ needs for food and social support. We featured the efforts and innovations of people like Siya Ndlangamandla who is trying to pioneer “community growing” on the little strips of land that sit unutilised in front of many of our houses.

Solidarity to save lives

Across South Africa these are just a handful of the examples of how citizens are responding and experimenting to try to show solidarity with the millions rendered foodless, jobless and without school by the Covid-19 crisis. We have also featured stories on the activities of Community Action Networks (CANs) that have sprung up in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and other kindnesses of strangers (see here and here).

All these interventions are saving lives. All of them seek to protect and promote people’s dignity.

If we choose to, then Yes we can, as Barack Obama famously coined.

However, if our country and its Constitution is going to survive the Covid-19 storm these examples will need to be multiplied a million times. This Saturday, 18 July, is Nelson Mandela Day. As much as it’s an opportunity to “take action” for 67 minutes, it’s also a time to reflect and introspect. 

It is hoped that millions more people will act (safely) this Saturday than ever before. That’s important. Each act counts. 

But it is also hoped that millions of people, particularly the more privileged in South Africa, will decide to change the trajectory of their lives away from behaviours that tactity accept or reinforce the status quo because, in the words of activist Tessa Dooms, we can’t “67 minutes our way out of poverty and inequality”. Neither can we 67 minutes our way out of the Covid catastrophe.

At this moment of historical crisis, Madiba’s restless spirit now asks something far greater of us than a single act of charity.


It should be clear now that Covid-19 and the implosion it has engendered is not going away for a long time. In the space of six months a virus has remade our world. Now we have no choice but to devise new economies and ways of living by which to inhabit this world; that is unless our consciences are happy with a deepening cycle of dog-eat-dog, social and civil conflict and survival of the wealthiest.  

Tomorrow, the results of a study with a complicated acronym, NIDS-CRAM (National Income Dynamics Survey: Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey), will be released that will show that the social harm caused by the lockdown and the Covid-19 health emergency is far deeper and more damaging than previous estimates. It will confirm that those hit the hardest were those with the least protection. Covid-19, and our attempts to flatten the curve, has deprived people of access to their most fundamental of rights, and the dignity that comes with a full stomach and the hope of a better life.

As a group of C-19 People’s coalition activists have recently written, “Covid-19 is a health crisis on top of existing social, economic and political crises.” It has seized hold of an already unfair and unequal world and is creating a society completely antithetical to the world Nelson Mandela fought for, the ideal he was prepared to go to prison for, “and, if needs be, to die” for.

Unless people are prepared to stop it.

So, this Mandela Day we all should ask ourselves what sacrifice are we really prepared to make?

Activists are right to demand of our government and the privately wealthy that far-reaching, radical, wealth and opportunity equalising measures are taken to respond to Covid-19. They demand nothing short of a revolution. They demand a new “social contract for equality and social justice”, a contract to make possible the realisation of the rights promised in the Constitution that Nelson Mandela signed into law in 1996.

Activists all over the world have mobilised and marched, protested, litigated and voted for human rights. Some are even prepared to go to prison or risk their lives for equality.

But even as people rightly make these demands it’s essential to see that solidarity begins at home. As the report on the Makers Valley Partnership demonstrates, people do not have to wait for any government to start to remake the world. 

It can be done now.

There is nothing to stop people turning the verges at the front of their houses into vegetable gardens. There is nothing to stop people turning waste and urban grime into crops.

The activities of the CANs show how it is possible to create a social contract at a community level; a contract between homeowners and homeless; employers and those domestic workers; the formally employed and informally employed; local businesses and their customers; black and white; migrant and South African, vulnerable and secure.

Seen this way, paradoxically, Covid-19 presents an opportunity to make reparations for South Africa’s racially divided past, to rebuild trust, to create safe neighbourhoods that depend for safety and security on an invisible barrier of community, rather than private security guards with guns.

Yes we can! Yes you can! Yes South Africa can! DM/MC

Mark Heywood is the Editor of Maverick Citizen.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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