PALI LEHOHLA | Madiba Jive for Peace keeps the dream alive

The event is an opportunity to reflect on what Nelson Mandela chose and why

23 May 2024 - 21:18
Former minister Jeff Radebe, artist Zwide Ndwandwe and professor Pali Lehohla attended this year's Madiba Jive for Peace.
Image: Supplied MISSION ACCOMPLISHED Former minister Jeff Radebe, artist Zwide Ndwandwe and professor Pali Lehohla attended this year's Madiba Jive for Peace.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s life was like a mathematical hexagon — one with many sides and angles: a boxer, a lawyer, a revolutionary, a soldier, a Nobel laureate, a gentleman, a statesman, an internationalist, a husband, a father and a friend to many. We celebrate our democracy turning 30, and this was created by the people of South Africa. Thirty years is still young and continues the journey to redress the legacy of centuries of colonialism and 50 of apartheid. However, I am convinced that on that journey our people are better off than they were 30 years ago as we conclude our life under the sixth administration. In two weeks’ time, on May 29, South Africans will be voting a government of their choice — the seventh administration.

Remembering Mandela, we reflect on what he chose and why. He could have continued to be a lawyer, chosen to be a professional boxer, many, many things. Instead he chose struggle so all of us could be free. At Robben Island, where I also was incarcerated for 10 years, but appeals court judge Richard Goldstone reduced that to six years, I joined many of our leaders there: Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni. Though we could not see them in person as they had been moved to other prisons, the thought remained that they are with us in spirit.

When the apartheid regime fell under pressure internally and globally they sought to talk to Mandela on his own. Instead he sent his daughter, the late Zinzi Mandela, to the stadium in Soweto and asked her to tell South Africans that a prisoner cannot negotiate. Mandela is originally from the Eastern Cape and born under a very proud people — the AbaThembu. He grew up under the Tembu Regent, Jongi Ndaba, and that is where he started sharpening his leadership skills.

Each subsequent year brought its important moments and challenges. But Zwide would not give up on the mission of peace.

Mandela was a forgiving man. He forgave his oppressors. He forgave his jailers. He did so for us to build and rebuild our nation. Because he believed in forgiving. His secret for doing so is that the mentality of retaliation destroys states. The mentality of forgiveness builds nations.

Mandela defied the African leadership trend of presidents for life. He served only a five-year term. He continued giving wisdom to the nation. On December 5 2013 I was at Mandela’s home with all his children, Mama Graca Machel, Mama Winnie Mandela, the chief of the South African Defence Force and others when he passed on. South Africa was engulfed in collective sorrow.

We should now take a leaf from Madiba’s peace-loving spirit to troubled lands — the DRC, Ukraine as well as to Gaza in Palestine, for this is what Mandela would have loved. South Africa is a different country where democracy has benefited society materially, though more has to be done to tackle poverty, inequality and unemployment.

During my tenure as a statistician-general going about my duties, one of which was to report to parliament regularly, I was on transit to Cape Town when a young man accosted me, even delaying me to the point of almost missing my flight. It was Zwide Ndwandwe telling me of a dream and that he was an artist. He told me perhaps I could be helpful. I wondered how I can help young Zwide when I am none of what he does. But a determined Zwide took the raw numbers out of my head and transformed them into culture and art in those few minutes of our encounter. He told me the idea of Madiba Jive. I was apprehensive after the meeting that such an approach would tarnish Madiba’s saintly image and his struggle credentials. So as I boarded the plane I threw Zwide’s idea in drawer 15, as I had many more important things to prepare for, including the Citizen Satisfaction Survey of KZN and Community Survey of 2016. Matters which South Africa held me to through minister in the presidency Jeff Radebe.

But Zwide was on my case as he mounted his inaugural Madiba Jive for Peace in Richards Bay in 2016 September, and I could not escape. He needed to let me know that the programme was running ahead, and he wanted me to be there. It was indeed impossible to be there as duty demanded that I be in New York, but I ensured that I arranged with Mme Semona of Mahotella Queens to grace the occasion.

Each subsequent year brought its important moments and challenges. But Zwide would not give up on the mission of peace. In 2017 again I could not be present as Bhugani and I had to be in New York for the UN General Assembly. Again I facilitated that Mme Semona be present. It was clear the peace mission was not going to leave us as the 2018 and 2019 versions of Madiba Jive continued to be held.

Then Covid-19 struck and the question was whether a Madiba Jive for Peace would be possible in 2020. In August 2020 I consulted our ambassador to the UN, Jerry Matjila, to consider the idea of a Madiba Jive for Peace. He embraced the idea but regretted that such an idea should have been tabled for July as well, when he would have ensured that it would be socialised through the UN for Madiba’s annual lecture. This makes it clear that Zwide’s dream of a Madiba Jive for Peace is not a farfetched Zulu boy fancy, but it is what we seriously need to do to bring peace in our land. In our meeting with Ntate BT Gumede of Tugela Bus Service, Ntate Mondle Mbatha and Zwide in Richards Bay in 2020 we contemplated what the Madiba Jive for Peace could become and concluded that it should go global.

In December 2021 after a lot of struggling, Madiba Jive was to have been graced by Tsepo Tshola, but unfortunately he departed this world. I approached Ntate Hot Stix Mabuza, who not only delivered a keynote address but also came up with good lyrics to the delight of the audience. I am convinced that Madiba Jive for Peace undergirds the call for conversations in the post-election period that former president Thabo Mbeki called for and this call as endorsed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Watch the proceedings of the day here:


Posted by Phovela Production on Friday, May 17, 2024

This is an edited version of the address delivered at this year’s Madiba Jive for Peace event.

Dr Pali Lehohla is a professor of practice at the University of Johannesburg, a research associate at Oxford University, a board member of Institute for Economic Justice at Wits and a distinguished alumni of the University of Ghana. He is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former president of the African Symposium for Statistical Development (ASSD)