When the mourning’s over, do something meaningful

In allowing the growing gulf between rich and poor and white and black, we are disrespecting Madiba's memory in spite of vows made upon his death.


Graca Machel is not afraid to speak her mind – and when she does make public statements, they are intended to make a point, uncomfortable though that point may be for some people.

That is why South Africans should pay close attention to what she said this week at a memorial service in Johannesburg for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

She said that, as a country, we are used to large displays of mourning, and even affection, for our departed heroes and heroines. And we are used to making fine promises at their gravesides or in eulogies about them.

But what, asked Machel, actually changes in reality?

Nelson Mandela’s widow said all of the fine promises, vows and pledges made to honour her late husband had been broken.

And five years after Madiba died, the same pledges were being made now, as they were then.

Machel also pointed out that South Africans tend only to wake up to the importance of a person, and their contribution to our country, after they have passed on.

It would have been wonderful, she said, for Mama Winnie to have been able to listen to the myriad heartfelt tributes while she was alive.

Machel’s words should, for a start, shame South Africans. In not honouring those promises made when Madiba passed away, his memory is disrespected. It is disrespected daily in allowing the growing gulf between rich and poor; white and black.

Madikizela-Mandela, for whatever view people hold of her, fought for a better society in South Africa. To properly honour her, we all need to look within ourselves and see what we can do – however small – to help make her dream become a reality.

Important though these public expressions of grief and celebration are, they must have a lasting impact.

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