South Africa and her people have long been characterised by contradiction. We have shown ourselves to be capable of both the deepest despair and the most irrepressible optimism.
on 18 July 1918 the Eastern Cape village of Mvezo
saw the birth of a boy named Rolihlahla Mandela
In 1918 nearly 140 000 South Africans died as a result of an international influenza outbreak, many parts of the country faced acute famine due to a persistent drought, and on 18 July the Eastern Cape village of Mvezo saw the birth of a boy named Rolihlahla Mandela who would become the father of democratic South Africa and a global symbol of hope and change.
In Mandela’s lifelong fight for freedom and equality in South Africa, we witnessed both the cruelty of a regime determined to hold on to power and privilege for the few, and the strength, conviction and humanity of a broad church of South Africans committed to achieving the “ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”.
In recent years we have been proud of the framework for justice provided by our internationally lauded constitution, and shamed by the sporadic progress in realising the fundamental rights and freedoms espoused in that framework.
As we celebrate Madiba’s birth date this year we are again faced with contradictions.
We face the persistent anxiety and mourning associated with a pandemic, whilst cautiously looking forward to a time when the majority of South Africans will be vaccinated, when we can start to rebuild our economy, and when we can find solace in contact with friends and family.
We are devastated by the legitimate desperation of the poor and the hungry in a country where socio-economic change is not happening fast enough, whilst we grow angry and frustrated at opportunistic criminality.
Our shoulders slump as we calculate the human and economic cost of both the pandemic and the current unrest, whilst we feel our resolve to achieve a better future strengthened by scenes of goggos lining up to receive life-saving vaccinations, neighbours taking hands to restore calm, and communities pulling together to rebuild.
As we are celebrating Madiba’s life and legacy this month, our team has been reflecting on the role that we can play in realising the vision that he had for South Africa. Recognising that this war is being fought on many fronts we have chosen our battle.
recognising that this war is being fought on
many fronts we have chosen our battle
We share Madiba’s conviction that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
International research consistently shows that reading for enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status, and there is compelling research evidence that access to a school library can offset or balance the effect of poverty on literacy development.
In a country where we continue to battle to address the inequities in our education system, our team, therefore, remains relentlessly committed to our role in improving education outcomes by promoting reading for enjoyment.
We also know that reading has positive impacts beyond the classroom. Madiba said that “when we read we are able to travel to many places, meet many people and understand the world”. We believe that the empathy and understanding fostered by reading will help a generation of South African children to better understand the world, and to continue working to make the world better.
Madiba said that "when we read we are able to travel many places, meet many people and understand the world"
As an organisation seeking to contribute to positive change, we feel the contradictions of our country in our work every day.
We see the myriad of challenges and endless needs, whilst we witness the seeds of hope and small changes that make us believe that a better future is possible.
Over the last 18 months we saw the schools where we work struggle to pay the salaries of critical teaching staff, and were heartened by the unfading passion and grit of teachers working in very trying circumstances.
We have felt overwhelmed by the extent of learning losses in our schooling system, and encouraged by the way in which learners can make progress and flourish when they receive individual attention.
Our team continually has to acknowledge the enormous scale and scope of what needs to be done, whilst we aim to define the specific parameters of the task that we can take on.
we have to acknowledge the enormous scale and scope
of what needs to be done, whilst we aim to define the specific parameters of the task that we can take on
Do these persistent contradictions mean that we are doomed to a perpetual pendulum of point and counterpoint without a clear path to progress? The answer is no. There are few truths that I hold to be universal, but this statement by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is one: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. And so I strongly believe that the ebbs and flows of our society continue to build towards an unstoppable wave of positive change. We falter. But we are gathering the building blocks of progress, and are resolutely stacking them one upon the other.
Madiba helped our country to chart the road to freedom, but our journey is not over. He also told us that “it always seems impossible until it’s done”. Let’s work to achieve the impossible together.
- Frouwien Bosman and the Otto Foundation Team
A printable illustration of Madiba
Please feel free to download and print this beautiful illustration by Otto Foundation team member, Xanelé. Colouring in can be meditative. When adding your own creative touches to this illustration of Madiba, you and the children in your life can think about the practical things that we can all do to realise Madiba's vision for South Africa.