An Invitation to the Legacy of Friendship Dialogue

nation building hate speech racism
Wednesday, 9 March, 2016 - 17:40

With all the hate speech that has recently been unleashed on social media platforms, perhaps it is time to remember Mandela by building on the idea that friendship can shape a nation

The legacy of Nelson Mandela, once universally esteemed, has been brought into question by those who feel transformation is lacking, some 22 years after our transition to democracy – that he made economic compromises that allowed white wealth and privilege to be protected to the detriment of development and real transformation.

Afrika Tikkun owes so much to Mandela. While the questioning and debate of his legacy is excellent for our nation and a sign that we are maturing out of the blind adoration of yesteryear, we feel it necessary to also defend aspects of his legacy that should always be upheld. We are talking about the very simple, necessary heritage of friendship that he modelled and inspired South African citizens in.

With all the hate speech that has recently been unleashed on social media platforms, we could really do with some of that now.

South Africa needs a particular kind of peace – not the kind that is the absence of unrest but the kind that is grounded in friendship. To quote Aristotle, “Friendship would seem to hold cities together.” How else can people or groups of people between whom there has been hatred and significant harm now share the plough and build a nation?

It would be a shallow and insincere transformation if our economy was not transformed. In South Africa, apartheid and the enmity of races was a structurally entrenched and legally ratified opportunity for one group to enrich itself at the expense of the other. To quote Desmond Tutu, “When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘let us pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.”
But how sustainable is this transformation if across the races there was not concern for one another’s well-being?

On 11 February 2016, we entered the 27th year since Mandela was freed from prison. His long walk to freedom included 27 years in prison. The recent eruption of racist hate speech, a number of them with strong anti-semitic sentiments comes 21 years after transformation. It is cause for concern for us as an organisation working with a hugely diverse staff to bring social and economic transformation among the poorest of the poor.
To quote Aristotle again, “In tyranny, there is the least amount of friendship.”
Perhaps the most wonderful part of this re-evaluation of Mandela’s legacy is the opportunity for the nation to build a new, equitable, and honest culture of (civic) friendship.
But those are things that Mandela gave us - there’s no good then, in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Bertie Lubner, one of the founders of Afrika Tikkun enjoyed a famous friendship with Nelson Mandela. He has a legacy of his own in this respect – being the person who in 1992 was instrumental in orchestrating and bringing Mandela, former president, F.W. de Klerk and Inkatha Freedom Party leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, together on the same platform for the first time. But it was a friendship that extended beyond political significance, or even the significance it had to us at Afrika Tikkun, Nelson Mandela being our Patron-in-Chief.

Through his influence the Lubners started Afrika Tikkun together with Herby Rosenberg and the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, which today reaches over 16 500 beneficiaries every year with a sustainable solution for youth unemployment. 

On the day Bertie had major heart surgery, while lying in recovery, Mandela arrived to visit him unannounced. He had just a few hours previously touched down from a three-week overseas trip, and come straight to the hospital to see him. 

We remember Mandela today not only because it is worth remembering, but because we want to build on the idea that friendship can shape a nation. In a just society, citizens feel a friendship with one another. They share values, goals and a sense of justice. They are concerned for one another’s well-being. To every utterance of hate speech, it is important to respond with the pursuit of justice. It is equally important to uphold the ideal of friendship, where possible.

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