Honour our Heroes Today

by Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

The recent death of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela unleashed an avalanche of mixed emotions, most of which was to be expected, given how single-mindedly she had lived her life.

One of the sentiments that came out strongly was that Madikizela-Mandela was under-appreciated in the sunset of her life. Many said that the state and the party she had served could have, and should have, done better to honour her contribution to the struggle for freedom and a non-racial society.

Some are suggesting that the Cape Town International Airport be named after her. Others say Orlando Stadium should serve as her eternal monument.

We must pause a moment and ask ourselves why is it that we need to honour people only when they are dead? Another question that arises is: Why must places of significance be named only after politicians?

South Africa has many outstanding men and women who continue to do great service in many different walks of life, many whose contribution to South African life is immeasurable. To limit ourselves only to politicians is to unwittingly create a hierarchy of contributors to society – with politicians being at the pinnacle of that pyramid.

This is not a radical thought. For example, Brazil’s second busiest airport, the Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (popularly known by its original name Galeão) in Rio de Janeiro, is named after one of that country’s greatest artists, famous all over the world for golden hits such as “The Girl From Ipanema.”

The Estadio Diego Armando Maradona in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is named after Diego Maradona, considered among the greatest footballers who ever lived.

These are just two of the many examples of institutions that have been named in honour of individuals whose contribution to society was in ways other than political.

Artists and sports personalities often unify nations while politicians, even the most noble, divide.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will this weekend bestow National Orders to “outstanding South Africans citizens” and foreign nationals. Some of the recipients are well known and others less so. Thankfully, they are from many different walks of life. The vast majority of them will present themselves to the president in the flesh.

Among those who will be honoured are actress Lillian Dube, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke and cricket star Hashim Amla. Also on the list are journalist Traci Mackie, musician Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, and former Springbok captain John Smit.

By spreading the recognition blanket as wide as National Orders usually do, we inculcate in society’s collective mind that contributions to the nation’s wellbeing and happiness are not any less so just because they are not politicians.

As communities, parishes and sodalities and religious communities we need not wait for the presidency to bestow recognition on our own Winnie Madikizela-Mandelas.

Nothing should prevent us from making those who inspire us and live exemplary lives know, while they are still alive, that their contribution to the greater good is noted and appreciated.

Mr Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury, The Witness and Sowetan and a senior journalist at many other mainstream South African newspapers.

f.moya@jesuitinstitute.org.za @fikelelom
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