Written by Katlego Kganyago

July 18th is Tata Nelson Mandela’s birthday and commemoration day, where we are encouraged to serve 67 minutes for charity and any good cause close to your heart. I was at the Es’kia Mphahlele Library in Tshwane recently, and I came across an exhibition about the legacy of the father of our nation, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (organised by the Nelson Mandela Foundation). As I study the installation, I am struck by Tata’s quote on a banner, “The call now is for each of us to ask ourselves: are we doing all we can to help build the country of dreams?”

I take a breather to reflect on that line as I hop on the long escalators to the study area of the resource centre. I ask myself, “What have I done for my community?” I try to ignore this reflection by daydreaming about the iconic smile of Nelson Mandela. I think about July being Mandela Month, and I am trying to convince myself about other important events. I realise that I have become so complacent about this precious month. I also acknowledge that community work requires one to have a source of income or networks to support/ maintain a project.  Being a freelance creative means you have to depend on family and friends for basic needs at times, because a salary is scarce.

I think of money-free projects I have done over the years like giving free workshops on TV/ film production. I think of free photography projects I have done for clients in Soshanguve. I think of voluntary motivational talks and guidance we have hosted as Wallmansthal Secondary alumni with precious friends. I think of e-wallets sent to feed a child of a friend, and to support a cousin to further their education. I also think of the most entertaining project I have done that is free, educating my non-queer folk about the LGBTQIA+ umbrella and gender identities. I also think again and celebrate the cost-free project- to be my queer self every day as a creative. I remember Spoek Mathambo’s line: “Every day you live inside your body without apologising is activism.” Being yourself is also part of nation-building, and you contribute tremendously to society.

I also reflect on Tata’s value and admiration of children. The least I have done is to help take care of my nephews and nieces. I have not done much for them, and I believe it is high-time I begin to invest in their education; not just tuition/books. I aspire to show them the world and teach them about humanity on a practical level. It is easy to rely on their prescribed social science textbook, but the real work is outside the classroom, and not memorising important dates. I would like to be that guncle that cares for the children because they truly are tomorrow’s leaders. I would like to take them out to experience endless international flights/ lectures/ museums/ galleries/ events often. I would like to take them to Vilakazi Street often – even Long Street. I would like to teach them that the world is their oyster; in fact the entire multiverse is theirs to enjoy.

 It could be easier said than done, but this short reflection makes me to re-evaluate my responsibility of being an elder to the children. My nephew who is a grade 4 scholar has already begun interviewing me about Tata, Simon Nkoli, Bev Ditsie, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Sobukwe, Albie Sachs, Ruth First, Miriam Makeba and it is a challenging time for me. I have to step up my leadership style in the uncle role, and the privilege I have to instil knowledge and influence them at a young age. 

I realise that being a leader or a mentor for children is not a walk in the park, but I am willing to challenge myself as a queer uncle to be a source of hope for the next generation. A wisdom-filled conversation with a heritage practitioner and musician Nathaniell SA, also inspired me to believe in the young ones as he referenced a quote to me: “If you have a plan for a year, plant rice. If you have a plan for a decade, plant a tree. If you have a plan for a century and beyond, invest in children.”

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