How to build a nation

It feels particularly pertinent that at this tough time in our history, that we reflect once again on the legacy of Mandela.

Yesterday was Mandela Day.

On the 18th of July every year (the day of Nelson Mandela's birthday), South Africans are encouraged to give 67 minutes of their own time to contribute to the greater good of society.

Mandela Day and the giving of 67 minutes (a minute for every year that Mandela gave to the South Africa that he fought for) has become a tradition.

This year, however, it seemed, the celebrations were quieter than usual.

Perhaps it is because of the terrible week that we as a nation endured just before Mandela Day, or perhaps it's because we no longer really believe that we are a nation united and it's becoming harder every year to doggedly hold onto the hope that things could somehow be different.

It feels particularly pertinent that at this tough time in our history, that we reflect once again on the legacy of Mandela. And of all of the things that he achieved in his lifetime, possibly the greatest was his ability to bring people together.

Mandela was a brilliant nation builder.

He had an uncanny ability to diffuse a tense situation and bring a perspective into play that completely sold the real need for togetherness, more than the instinct to divide.

Now more than any challenge that we face; South Africa struggles to honestly see itself as one nation.

That's probably because we are not a nation.

If you take the given English definition of 'a nation' word for word - a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory - then South Africans are anything but a unified nation of people.

We are divided in almost every single aspect of the definition.

We are divided racially, culturally, by the languages that we speak and understand, by where we live, by economics, by heritage, and even by our potential in the future.  

South Africa is not one nation; it is a collection of groups of people who may or may not identify with each other at various points in time; struggling to find a common purpose amidst ongoing and relentless waves of disruptions and challenges.

We travel in time from crisis to crisis, humorously trying to contextualise our situation with satire and light-hearted banter. We make ourselves feel better with stories of flashes of togetherness and heartwarming accounts of individuals who give of themselves unselfishly to assist the desperate.

It's not good enough.

What we need if we are going to access the future South Africa that 'could be' - is to focus our collective ongoing efforts on nation-building.

Nation-building means that we focus more on what unites us than divides us.

Nation-building means that we truly understand that unless everyone is safe and secure and free from the fear of violence and poverty, then none of us are really free from these demons.

Nation-building means that we accept and respect each other's pasts and differences and share a common vision of the future that inspires us to work together to build a country not just for ourselves, but for generations of South Africans still to come.

Nelson Mandela fought for an ideal, a vision of the future of South Africa, in which be believed. Throughout his life, he worked to ensure that this idea of a united South African nation was realised.

It's our job now to keep working on building a nation, not just for 67 minutes every July, but every single day.

We either rise together as a nation or fall down as individuals.