South Africa

Ramaphosa needs to build his own legacy

There are some things I would have done differently to celebrate the 30th anniversary on Tuesday of the release of former president Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years.

For instance, I would not have asked President Cyril Ramaphosa to speak from the same City Hall balcony where Madiba gave his first speech as a free man 30 years ago and where Ramaphosa held the mic as a member of the Mandela Reception Committee.

I understand the symbolism, but Ramaphosa is under enough pressure and should not always be compared to Madiba or be expected to do things that Madiba did, like donning Springbok rugby jerseys. Ramaphosa needs to establish his own legacy and traditions.

It was not fair to expect him to speak facing an empty Grand Parade, bar a few hundred invited guests, who attended an earlier panel discussion inside the City Hall, and school children who were bused in especially for his speech but not for the panel discussion. They had to sit in the hot sun waiting to hear the president speak.

What I would not have done differently was to invite 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee to give the keynote address inside the City Hall. Gbowee said that “Madiba’s walk out of prison was to ensure Africa’s release from the prison of our minds. We no longer have to be held hostage to greed, poverty and corruption”. If only it was that simple.

Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize mainly for her role in uniting women across religious divides in her country of birth, Liberia, resulting in an end to a long-lasting civil war in 2003.

Her work then, and the work she continues to do as the founder and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation in Monrovia, Liberia, speaks to the legacy and values that made Mandela one of the most respected statesmen in the world - more than six years after his death.

It was clear from her speech that Gbowee is driven by a great love for humanity and not by political correctness or political posturing. She described herself as “a proud mother of eight”. She became involved - as a 17-year-old - in uniting Christian and Muslim women in her country.

The most interesting part of her speech was when she made unscripted comments, as is often the case. She was unapologetic about the way she dresses and the way she speaks, saying that it is her choice.

She did not hesitate to say that, when she got home, she was going to spank her seven-year-old for disrespecting someone older. The boy had apparently thrown down his school bag and insisted someone else, who works for the family, pick it up.

I only wrote down one thing Gbowee said, because it made the most impact on me: “I see your humanity. Do you see mine?” It is a simple statement, but speaks to so much of what is wrong with the world today and what is needed to fix it. Divisions in our society are often based on some people not accepting the humanity of others. This is why it is easy to discriminate against the poor when we are not poor, against homeless people when we are not homeless, against black people when we are not black, and against women and children when we are grown men.

I’ve learnt a lot in this busy week but learnt mostly that I should respect the humanity of others in the same way I expect them to respect mine.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.