This year, Mandela Day comes at as opportune a time as ever. As the novel coronavirus surges ahead with alarming alacrity, we are fortunate to be reminded that we can draw inspiration from Madiba’s life. For many of us, COVID-19 poses the challenge of being isolated, disconnected, depressed and losing our sense of being grounded. During the 27 years of his incarceration, Madiba transcended his isolation and disconnection. We are reminded, and should draw encouragement, from how he strengthened his purpose and resolve under extremely trying circumstances, and constantly shaped himself in preparation of his influential role that left an impact on us all. For those among us who have faced or are confronting illness or loss due to COVID-19, Madiba’s example of courage and perseverance speaks loudly and reassuringly.

The South African response to COVID-19 has been guided by a constitutional framework highlighting the values of accountability, transparency and justification.  This framework embodies what President Mandela fought for, and stands as part of his legacy. Although not perfect, the government’s largely temperate and balanced response under President Ramaphosa seeks to steer a course by the beacons of the rule of law.  While President Mandela’s challenge was to lead South Africa forward from the brink of a political impasse and away from disastrous conflict, Ramaphosa’s challenge is to find the balance between saving lives and sustaining livelihoods in the face of a global pandemic.

Mandela Day comes as the country mourns the passing of his daughter Zindzi, who so ably amplified her father’s words, when she so movingly read out his iconic letter in 1985, and in her own right subsequently spoke her truth on matters in respect of which many others chose silence. We at the Centre are deeply saddened by the passing of this great South African, and extend our heartfelt condolences to the Mandela family and everyone who will miss her spirited presence.  The family’s sharing with us the information that she tested positive for the coronavirus recalls how Madiba, at the height of the stigma and silence around the HIV pandemic in 2005, had the courage to make it known that the death of his son Makgatho was due to HIV infection. 

The Centre, together with the Leading Like Mandela Institute and the Tembekile Mandela Foundation, in honour of Mandela Month on 22 July hosts a webinar to discuss an issue that resonates loudly at this time: “Have we struck the balance right in our response to COVID-19?” Panelists include two former judges of the Constitutional Court, Justices Van der Westhuizen and Yacoob.

Let us draw courage from the realisation that this pivotal founding father of our democracy is with us not only on this day, or during this month, but constantly during these difficult times, as he is in our time of joy and celebration.


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