It was a jubilant scene in the Tshwane University of Technology’s Prestige Auditorium as people sang struggle songs with dancing during the speech by former transport minister and Robben Island inmate Mac Maharaj.
The lecture was to honour former president, Nelson Mandela, ahead of United Nations recognised International Mandela Day on Sunday. Maharaj spoke about the type of person Madiba is describing him as someone who always fights for human rights, even for hardened criminals.
He told a story of how the country’s first democratically elected president tried to stand up for another Robben Island inmate who was being assaulted by prison guards only for the prisoner to deny everything Madiba was saying. “We later found out that the man had been bought off by the guards with a packet of tobacco.”
He said all his fellow ANC members laughed at Mandela when he returned to them, but the young Madiba insisted that he would stand up for anyone who was in a similar situation.
Maharaj went on to say a lot of problems South Africa is facing at the moment are a result of poverty and the remnants of the country’s past. “Apartheid taught us not to know about Shangane people. It also said black people could get nothing with white people getting everything. Indians and coloureds were somewhere in the middle getting crumbs,” Maharaj explained.
He believes apartheid divided people and that led to a fear of the others and a suspicion among different ethnic groups. He says this fear and a suspicion of others is what has led to xenophobia as well. “They were only allowed here to be just manual labour.”
During the call to action for this year’s Mandela Day there have been various announcements asking people to learn about others in their various communities. Maharaj also made this call during his lecture.
This comes after renewed threats on foreign nationals living in South Africa. This morning the Mail And Guardian newspaper reported that the number of people crossing the border back to Zimbabwe has increased. Many of these people are fearing for their lives after several shops owned by Somalis were looted in the country.
Authorities have said these are just acts of violence and have not come as a result of xenophobia in South Africa.
President Jacob Zuma has also urged foreign nationals to go to the police should they feel their lives are threatened.
Maharaj ended by saying good deeds should not only last for 67 minutes.