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Mandela Day can be the new normal

Mandela Day is a special day in many of our lives when we reflect on the values Nelson Mandela stood for. But, it also allows us to ascribe to values beyond those he might necessarily have thought of.

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Voices

MARC LUBNER

Pondering Mandela’s values of conscious leadership, we create our own additional thoughts about living a life of service for others.

Mandela Day has been mooted as a day of doing good deeds for others. Many South Africans are motivated to spend 67 minutes consciously engaged in activities that are about giving. However, Mandela Day achieves a greater purpose insofar as it creates the opportunity to cross lines of diversity. Corporates bring staff members together in acts of random kindness and in doing so, cultural, racial, and religious barriers are diminished as teams pull together.

It’s critically important for our Jewish community to showcase how we can be a light unto the nations by using this day to integrate with various other communities in activities that promote a sense of well-being for the receiver, and the parties who are giving.

The economic woes of our country are a direct result of deficiencies within our system. High unemployment is a result of poor productivity. However, productivity is influenced by factors such as the majority of South Africans still living in townships with limited public transport to places of work. It is influenced by the fact that people live in areas with hopelessly inadequate resources, so when adults go off to work, they don’t know that their children are being cared for in safe environments, with adequate health and educational support.

Mandela Day creates an opportunity for those who are insensitive to such conditions to cross over Louis Botha Avenue into townships like Alexandra, to see just how difficult living conditions are for residents in that community. Equally, visits to Alex on Mandela Day create the opportunity for insight into the magic of the people living within these communities.

Too often, we simply discredit township communities because they might be financially impoverished, without realising the colour, creativity, and humour that exists within these communities. In most instances, people end Mandela Day with a sense of awe and respect for the majority, who create social structures and a functional network in spite of huge infrastructural gaps.

It’s important that Jewish parents use Mandela Day to teach their children about the gift of gratitude. Often, I see how children from fortunate homes go home at the end of the day with a sense of appreciation and an awareness for the simple fact that they have food in their fridges, and running water in their toilets.

I don’t think our community realises just how good our lives are in relative terms. Too often, I hear people bemoan the lack of financial support they get from the Chevrah Kadisha. Comparatively, a youngster attending an Afrika Tikkun centre is filled with song and laughter simply because he/she is given one or two basic meals, some home and work support, and the knowledge that somebody cares enough to offer some momentary love.

We celebrate many Jewish holidays where it is beholden on us to practice acts of tzedakah (charity). Invariably, we do this through contributions made to members of our own society or to community support programmes.

Mandela Day should be a day where we realise that we have an obligation to care beyond the needs of our own community. This is not to discount our community for a minute, but to recognise that we are fortunate to be able to support our own and other South African communities.

According to author Yuval Harari, homo sapiens is the dominant species on the planet as a result of its ability to form social pacts and work in unison. The world is changing, and the age-old boundaries which people use to define their associations are being redefined. The internet says that we are no longer bound to associations based on geographical limitations. Common purpose now bonds individuals together on themes such as dealing with environmental issues to forming political parties.

South Africans can be pro or anti Brexit, and through social media, can participate in ways that influence the views of others across the globe. Members of the Jewish community can align with any one of an array of political parties without necessarily negating their faith. It’s therefore imperative that as a community, we show a sense of responsible kindness in defining who we are, and what we stand for.

Mandela Day gives us the opportunity to do this, not merely by putting money into a yellow arc, but by consciously giving thought to the outcomes we would like to achieve. We need to consider how we might get involved in bringing about meaningful change. Mandela Day should be a day where our community gives thought to actions and deeds directed at using our influence to make life better for those around us, in a sustainable manner.

We can resolve to greet those pesky street beggars, recognising them as fellow human beings, irrespective of whether we support giving cash as a donation. We can ask ourselves how Mandela would respond to the plight of children who are in desperate need of surgery, but whose parents can’t afford medical aid.

Instead of thinking about impoverished township communities, we can recognise and respect the efforts that individuals within these communities make to build lives of dignity, and we can find ways, whether through mentoring on an ongoing basis or co-funding a bursary – or a variety of other methodologies – to uplift our fellow South Africans.

There is a wonderful expression that says, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In giving, we become the ultimate recipients.

Mandela Day also provides an interesting umbrella, in which this awareness can be unlocked without individuals feeling that they have to be beholden every day thereafter. It’s accepted that life returns to ‘normal’ after Mandela Day, but hopefully the definition of what’s normal changes in a positive and ever more conscious way as a result of the magic of the “Madiba moment”.

  • Marc Lubner is chief executive of Afrika Tikkun.

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Voices

To a sweet, unsticky, New Year

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I hate honey. I might be a blasphemer of note for even thinking such a thing, but “living my truth” means being honest. And honestly, I hate honey. Seriously hate honey. I hate the stickiness, the sweetness, and the fact that I’m judged for not wanting to douse every consumable, edible item in sweet syrupiness.

And if that makes me the Grinch of Rosh Hashanah, then so be it. But with the unburdening comes the immense relief that at last, I’m no longer obliged to pretend.

I remember that back in the day, we simply ate apples dipped in honey on both the first and second nights of Rosh Hashanah. Those were simple times. It was measured and sensible, and it was contained.

Back in my day, honey knew its place. It belonged on apples and maybe in a “tzimmes” dish that my grandmother would make and that my mother would burn in error year after year after year after year.

There was nothing sweet about the argument that followed, especially when my mother raised the defence that it happened only because my grandmother insisted on using “cheap pots”.

It was safe back then. But then whilst I was busy growing up and not paying attention, the honey custom found its way to the challah as well.

What began with apples quickly spread (as honey does) to challah until before we knew it, we were lathering it over everything all the way until the end of Sukkoth. I’m genuinely perplexed.

However, by that time (the end of Sukkot), we will have repented. We will have fasted. We will have endured hours and countless sermons along with empty WhatsApp messages and the uncertainty about responding to them. Surely, we have suffered enough without needing to shower every time we sit down to a meal.

I have even heard stories of young couples who substitute honey for salt for the entire first year of marriage. Because nothing screams love and devotion like growing obese together – or injecting each other with insulin.

I’m concerned that we might have lost the plot. We live in an age of excess, and one where measure and restraint isn’t easy. If we have money, we want more, if we have social media followers, we need more. We need more time, more attention, more food, and more everything.

And it now appears that when it comes to symbols, we’re no different. Symbolism is good. And powerful. And meaningful. Until we take it so far, it makes us nauseous.

Perhaps the need to make everything stupidly sweet is more a reflection of our anxiety. We live in a world and at a time where the future is scary and worrisome. There’s very little that we know for sure. And maybe at some deeper level, we think that the little bit of honey and sweetness that we add to something might be the very thing that makes all the difference. Perhaps it will. I’m just not convinced.

I’m not a heretic. Or at least I don’t think I’m one. And of course, I want a sweet year. I just don’t necessarily want a sticky one. Shana tova!

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Voices

Make Us Count 2021

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After several weeks of uncertainty, it has been confirmed that this year’s municipal elections will be going ahead on the slightly later date of 1 November. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is now hard at work putting together its flagship “Make Us Count” (MUC) pre-election education and engagement campaign, something we have been running since the 2009 national and provincial elections.

As with previous campaigns, MUC kicked off with a voter-registration drive. We have publicised details about the upcoming voter-registration weekend on 18 to 19 October, as well as online registration. I urge everyone, particularly first-time voters, to check that they are on the roll and that their details are correct. In addition to first-time voters, those already on the roll whose details might have changed also need to visit the relevant IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) registration station to ensure that their information is up to date come polling day. For more details, see our website: https://www.sajbd.org/.

A highlight of previous MUC initiatives has been putting together an interfaith election-observer team to monitor proceedings at polling stations throughout the country. In addition to observing the voting to ensure that everything is fair and above board, the team assists the IEC to, among others, supervise the delivery of ballot boxes and open the polls, helping to resolve problems at polling stations and ensuring that counting begins on time. MUC has applied to the IEC for accreditation to once again run this highly successful project, which apart from the practical assistance it provides to election officials is an inspiring bridge-building experience in which South Africans of widely differing backgrounds come together to contribute to our country’s democratic process. For more information and to register to be part of this unique community initiative, sign up at https://t.co/bglH3yNJaA or contact makeuscountsa@gmail.com.

Another important plank of MUC is to make our community more aware of the nitty-gritty issues that the various political parties are dealing with, and their policies in regard to them. One of the ways we do this is by hosting “Great Debates” between representatives of the main competing parties. Gauteng’s Great Debate will take place on 6 October, and I’m pleased to report that well-known journalist and author Mandy Wiener, who did such a superb job on previous occasions, will again be moderating. The Cape Board will host its debate on ENCA on 10 October, while KwaZulu-Natal was finalising the date for its event at the time of writing.

On 12 October, the SAJBD will also be hosting a “Navigating the Elections” webinar to better inform people what the elections are about, how they are likely to unfold, and their significance for the country as a whole. It will feature a panel of top political analysts hosted by eminent political commentator Stephen Grootes and comprising Wayne Sussman, Ralph Mathekga, and Nompumelelo Runji. We hope you will join us for what promises to be an interesting and stimulating discussion as well as for the other MUC that will be taking place.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00

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Voices

Fortune spent on anti-Israel adverts, but no money for salaries

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It’s worth pondering how unpaid African National Congress (ANC) employees feel about the organisation allocating resources to massive billboards decrying Israel. ANC policy aside, it must be frustrating to see both the effort and cost that the organisation has invested while unable to pay its staff. Grand gestures are all good and well, but it can’t taste good on an empty stomach.

Over the weekend, the ANC resorted to a crowdfunding initiative to assist it in the payment of employees who haven’t yet received their salaries. In doing so, it shared a poster on a number of social-media platforms with banking details, asking ordinary members of the public and ANC supporters to make contributions to a Nedbank account.

It went swimmingly, apparently, with one of the organisers saying, “The public response was very positive, the masses have responded positively.” I can confirm that my response was also more positive than anything else. Positively gobsmacked. Positively outraged. Positively tickled. And positively horrified. I was also positive that this couldn’t be real, and that the ANC or someone with a fantastic flair for creative finance was pulling our proverbial leg.

Only, the situation is hardly funny. The ANC, South Africa’s ruling party, is unable to pay its staff. Unable to meet the most basic commitment that it has made to the people it employs. That isn’t a laughing matter. People who have worked have every right to be paid. The fact that it’s unable to do so speaks volumes not only about its lack of responsibility and care, but also about its financial incompetence. It’s also no surprise, given the state of the nation, the state of ANC municipalities, and the economy under its watch.

What seems to drive the ANC is grandstanding and its desire to showcase itself as some sort of moral bastion even though its reputation today is more synonymous with corruption than anything else.

“End Israeli Apartheid” screams the ANC billboard that probably costs a number of salaries per month. There are, as a matter of interest, two ANC anti-billboards. One in Jabulani and one on the East Rand. That the “apartheid” label has unfairly been used is neither here nor there. Nor is it here or there that women in Afghanistan are living in fear of their lives, that Christians are persecuted across the Middle East, or that Iran is hanging gay people. It also matters not at all to the ANC that Muslims are being herded into concentration camps in China, and that its friends, the Cubans, have systematically deprived their people of rights.

What matters to the ANC is popularism and point scoring. Even if it comes at the expense of its own employees, and at the expense of its own people – Jews and Christians alike – who are supportive of Israel.

The fact that the ANC had to turn to crowdfunding to raise money to pay salaries is embarrassing. But more so is the fact that there are those who throw good money after bad, and supported it.

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