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Mandela Day – Doing good for 67 minutes a year is a shallow celebration of Madiba’s legacy

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Ryland Fisher has more than 40 years of experience in the media industry as an editor, journalist, columnist, author, senior manager and executive. Among his media assignments were as Editor of the Cape Times and The New Age, and as assistant editor at the Sunday Times. Fisher is the author of ‘Race’ (2007), a book dealing with some of the issues related to race and racism in post-apartheid South Africa. His first book, ‘Making the Media Work for You’ (2002), provided insights into the media industry in South Africa. His most recent book is ‘The South Africa We Want To Live In’, based on a series of dialogues he hosted on the topic.

The international day to remember Nelson Mandela and his legacy has been corrupted by people who do good for all the wrong reasons.

On Monday, thousands, if not millions, of people across the world, and particularly in South Africa, who have not done good deeds the whole year will be doing a good deed for 67 minutes in honour of South Africa’s founding democratic President, Nelson Mandela, who would have turned 104 this year.

The 67 minutes mark a minute for every year Mandela spent as a public servant.

Many of these people will photograph every move of their 67 minutes of goodwill, will post it on Instagram and, in the case of the oldies like me, on Facebook, and rejoice as their posts receive many ‘likes’. They will be upset if their posts do not generate many ‘likes’.

I know this sounds cynical, but I struggle to take seriously people who do good for only 67 minutes on one day of the year. It is like the people who sin the whole week and then go to mosque on Friday or church on Sunday, hoping that this one action will be able to redeem them and book them a passage into heaven (or Jannah in the case of Muslims). 

I am also cynical about how something that started off as a genuine attempt to celebrate Mandela’s birthday and his legacy has been hijacked by major corporates that use Mandela Day as a marketing ploy. One of the things that I have never been able to understand is why some corporates expect their staff to do good and then claim it as a company activity. It is like the stores that implore you, just outside the check-out points, to donate generously for homeless people or people who might have suffered from some calamity or other. When they take the donations, they do it as the store and not necessarily on behalf of the shoppers who made the donations. If the store offers to match or better every donation made, then it is a different thing altogether.

But, I suppose, to each his own.

While I might be cynical, I have to accept that, in the crazy world in which we live, every act of goodwill should be welcomed.

My only problem is when people think the fact that they painted somebody’s house is going to change that person’s life forever.

Most people who do good do so from a limited perspective, and they believe that they can uplift one or two people without challenging the political, economic and social status quo that led to that person or persons being in the situation in which they find themselves.

South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world, and it will remain so as long as we continue to make small alterations to people’s lives without dealing with the bigger issues of wealth distribution and economic inequality. To this toxic mix, one can of course also add the effects of corruption and the international economic meltdown that has shown no real sign of abating in the past five years or so.

I have always refused to conform to what is seen as the proper thing to do and have always questioned many things that others accept blindly. In the same way, I have always tried to do good, irrespective of whether it is on 18 July, 1 January or 15 September. Doing good must be something that we do consistently and without wanting to be noticed.

I often wonder, when I see the pictures on social media, whether any of the do-gooders will follow up on the families they helped a few months or years later.

Most poor people will probably appreciate any help they can get, but it becomes a problem when the help provides a temporary solution to what is a bigger societal problem that most of us are scared to address.

So, on Monday, please feel free to do as much as you can to help others, but think about whether you have the energy to sustain it and whether what you have done is part of the solution or part of the problem.

The greatest contribution we can make to Mandela’s legacy is to emulate the values by which he lived and make these a part of our lives. We need to become more caring as our second nature, we need to respect everyone, especially those who might not have as much as us, and we always need to think about doing more than we are doing to help those who are less privileged than us, not because everyone is doing it on a specific day, but because it is the right thing to do. DM

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  • Thiru Pillay says:

    I take the view that yes, while 67 minutes is not a long period, and certainly could depict hypocrisy, it should be welcomed. So, I agree fully with the writer.
    67 minutes, if it leads to introspection, will most certainly change a person, and could lead to a lifetime of possibilities.
    But, I have always been an optimist.
    Thanks for the article!

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