‘Don’t Look Away from Spectacles of Public Violence and Lawlessness’

July 2021 — In this moment of great challenge and terrible danger for South Africa, it is imperative for everyone who calls this country home to be part of finding solutions and making a future that is liveable for all.


Members of the public paying their respects outside Mandela’s Houghton home | Robert DennisonCC BY 2.0

The temptation at times like this is to become paralysed, or to look away, or to give up. Our call is to honour Madiba in this month of Mandela Day by stepping up.

We applaud those who are contributing to making peace in the hotspots of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. We applaud community members who are assisting law enforcement services with the protection of infrastructure and systems which serve them.

And we applaud those who are mobilising support for relief, recovery and clean-up work. We are committed to supporting all such endeavour.

If sustainable solutions to the wave of public violence and other acts of lawlessness which is sweeping parts of South Africa are to be found, then it is critical that we understand what is happening and why. This tidal wave has been a long time coming.

For many years now the Foundation has joined with others in alerting the country to the unsustainable levels of rage building within our communities. Despite paying lip service to reckoning with oppressive and traumatic pasts, since 1994 the state has overseen serial failures in ensuring reparation, restitution, redistribution and prosecution.

Instead, those carrying deep wounds from those pasts have been left behind by macro policies and strategies which have favoured both White and Black elites but has disturbingly excluded an overwhelming majority of the Black working classes. Inequality has spiralled. The discarded and the despairing live their lives with conspicuous consumption in full view.

Levels of violence have been growing at disturbing levels through the last two decades. The Foundation believes that South Africa is best understood now as a violent democracy, a democratic polity in which high levels of violence are regarded as normal.

From domestic violence to rape, from child abuse to murder, from injuries caused by drunken driving to school bullying, statistics for South Africa are shocking. The woundedness of our society is profound.

And for too long the state has concentrated its efforts on bolstering law enforcement and the criminal justice system, neglecting violence prevention strategies (like having a vibrant and respected social work sector) and rehabilitation programmes.

In the last eighteen months Covid-19 has added whole new layers of alienation, privation and despair. Since the first quarter of 2020 the numbers of South Africans unable to put a meal on the table have grown.

Malnutrition, homelessness and depression have deepened alarmingly. There are too many people feeling discarded and in despair, too many people with nothing to lose, too many people who have seen political and other elites at all levels play fast and loose with the law, with impunity.

All that was required to let destructive energy loose was a trigger. The willingness of those who call themselves supporters of former President Zuma to weaponise identities and invite mayhem became that earth tremor setting off the tidal wave.

The consequences for individuals, communities and our country will be dire. The future will be a scary place if we don’t all step up. In the long term, addressing deep-rooted sources of rage and despair will be critical.

In the short-term, restoring the rule of law has to be a priority. And in the weeks and months ahead we can prepare ourselves for communities cut off from essential food and medical supplies as a result of the destruction of infrastructure and supply chains. Relief work, like the Foundation’s Each1Feed1 campaign, for many will make the difference between surviving or not.

Don’t look away. Join us in making every day a Mandela Day.

*SOURCE: Nelson Mandela Foundation. Go to ORIGINAL.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation was established in 1999 when its Founder, Mr Nelson Mandela, stepped down as the President of South Africa.

Mr Mandela was South Africa’s first democratically elected President. On 9 May 1994, soon after our landmark election results were in, he was unanimously elected President by South Africa’s new Members of Parliament.

The next day, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in at an inauguration ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

He vowed to serve only one term as President, and in 1999 he stepped down to make way for Thabo Mbeki.

In the life of any individual, family, community or society, memory is of fundamental importance. It is the fabric of identity. ”

Nelson Mandela

Soon after Mr Mbeki was inaugurated as President on 16 June 1999, Mr Mandela was on the telephone to rally his staff for the new tasks ahead. They had to remind him they no longer worked for him, and so the Nelson Mandela Foundation was born.

As Mr Mandela’s post-presidential office, it provided the base for his charitable work, covering a wide range of endeavours: from building schools to HIV/AIDS work, from research into education in rural areas to peace and reconciliation interventions.

Five years later, the Foundation began its transition into an organisation focused on memory, dialogue and legacy work. A comprehensive refurbishment of the Foundation’s building provided it with an appropriate physical home, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

The Centre was opened on 18 November 2013, three years to the day after Mr Mandela last used the building as his office.

Founding principles of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

  • The creation, establishment, protection and preservation of a Centre of Memory about Mr Mandela, which contains an archive of the life and times, works, and writings of the Founder
  • Convening dialogue around critical social issues, including particular issues regarding human rights and democracy, in order to contribute to a just society
  • The promotion of, or engaging in, philosophical activities, including discussion regarding issues pertaining to human rights and democracy
  • The raising of funds in furtherance of the Trust’s objectives
  • The provision of support services to, or the promotion of the common interests of, public benefit organisations


Our vision is a just society, one which learns from its pasts and listens to all its voices.


Our mission is to contribute to the making of a just society by mobilising the legacy of Nelson Mandela, providing public access to information on his life and times, and convening dialogue on critical social issues.

Core work

To deliver to the world an integrated and dynamic information resource on the life and times of Nelson Mandela, and promote the finding of sustainable solutions to critical social problems through memory-based dialogue interventions.

2021 Human Wrongs Watch

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