Dear Fellow South African,
Yesterday, we joined with people across the world in marking Nelson Mandela Day through acts of service and generosity.
But this Nelson Mandela Day was different to previous years. It took place in the aftermath of a week in which parts of our country were gripped by violence and mayhem.
It was a week in which we were confronted by deeply unsettling images of desolate owners standing outside the shells of what was once a thriving business; of looted shops and warehouses; of burning trucks and buildings and streets strewn with debris; of anxious citizens barricading their communities; and of snaking queues of people lining up to buy food.
Despite this, we observed Nelson Mandela Day not as country on its knees, but as a people who collectively embody the spirit of Nelson Mandela, perhaps as never before.
What I have seen in the last few days is a people united, resolute and determined to protect this country from anyone and anything that wants to destroy it. Those who lit the tinderbox of this unrest hoped to mobilise our people by exploiting their conditions of hardship. They were counting on citizens falling for crude propaganda designed to turn them not just against the state, but against each other.
What they were not counting on was the enduring ability of South Africans to unite in the face of a common threat.
This has always been our greatest strength as a nation, and it came to the fore.
In Tembisa, residents stood at night outside shops to protect them from looters. In Mthatha, taxi drivers formed a protective cordon around shopping malls. In Mahikeng, community members organised themselves to guard businesses. In eThekwini, students from Mangosuthu University of Technology and other campuses embarked on clean-up campaigns in the inner city and other affected areas.
In Soweto, a young activist who leads the Soweto Youth Parliament has mobilised scores of young women and men to defend the Maponya Mall on a 24-hour basis in defence of “their township economy”.
On this Nelson Mandela Day, the South African people are the heroes of which Madiba once spoke; the people who make peace and build where it is easy to break down and destroy.
In the coming days, weeks and months, the true cost of this campaign of destruction will be keenly felt, especially by the poor.
Businesses have been destroyed and livelihoods lost at a time when we are already feeling the strain one and a half years into a global pandemic. The economic damage has sapped many of the budding shoots of recovery we were witnessing just a few weeks ago.
As we work to stabilise the country and secure essential supplies and infrastructure, we must work together to mitigate the effects of this unrest on society’s most vulnerable.
We are called upon to help with food relief and support businesses in distress. We are called upon to join small volunteer teams to help clean up affected communities if we are able to do so, all the while mindful of the pandemic and what we must do to keep safe. As businesses let us do what we can to provide employee wellness and other support to staff who have been affected by the violence.
But we are not only rebuilding our country after the destruction of the past week; we are rebuilding after the devastation of decades of dispossession and exploitation. We need to fundamentally transform our economy and our society, deepening our efforts to create employment, lift millions out of poverty and ensure that the country’s wealth is shared among all its people.
The events of the last week are a stark reminder of how deep the problems are and how far we still have to go. These events must propel us to act with greater purpose and speed.
We should continuously strive to give true meaning to the promise of equality and freedom for all by making every day Nelson Mandela Day, more now than ever.
As a people, we must perform what is at this time the greatest service to our fellow man and woman. We should go out and get vaccinated so we can secure the health of our nation.
More than one million citizens in the age 35 and older category registered for vaccinations last week. This record registration, taking place in a week when we were experiencing such mayhem, says a great deal about our national character.
It speaks to our resilience and determination. It speaks to our enduring optimism that things will indeed get better.
Last week the BBC captured an iconic image that will in time come to symbolise what we as a nation stood for during a dark week in July 2021.
It was of 2-year-old Melokuhle Manyoni falling from a smoke-filled building in the Durban city centre that had set alight by looters. The child’s distraught mother threw her from the ledge in a desperate bid to save her life. Avoiding what could have been an unspeakable tragedy, the falling baby was caught by a group of people below and taken to safety.
Over the past week our country was plunged into turmoil. There were those who sought to destroy our constitutional order. But like baby Melokuhle, our democracy was rescued by the strong arms of the South African people. And in the wake of the destruction, the ideals for which Nelson Mandela worked and to which he devoted his life have galvanised our nation’s spirit.
The values of peace, tolerance and compassion that underpin our democracy have not been destroyed by its enemies. Our democracy is safe and secure because it is protected by the people.
Wherever you may have been yesterday, I thank you for your service, and wish you a belated happy Nelson Mandela Day.
With best regards,