In Any Colour

There are few things that paint can achieve. It can hide cracks on a wall but not the severity of the cracks. It can turn ugly structures into beautiful ones which’s value does not really improve but which can be delusion enough to warrant a higher currency while they shouldn’t. Paint can create colour that later becomes a multi-million rand identity. The Kaizer Chiefs’ black and gold colours are worth hundreds of millions on the market. Reportedly, Vodafone had to pay tens of millions to Cell C to have exclusive rights to use RED as the colour of their trademark. Cell C had no option but to shift to BLACK - which is perceived to be a negative colour.

South Africans have always had a unifying pastime – which later on becomes a national identity. Having a braai was (and still is) our pastime. We are a braaing nation. So, it was quite inspiring to see that on Mandela Day our age-old pastime was suddenly replaced by painting. The legacy of a human rights fighter as dignified as Mandela is suddenly reduced to 67-minutes of changing the colour of structures. South African Airways repainted the whole fleet to celebrate Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 93rd birthday.

A weekend newspaper columnist alluded to this ‘cheapening’ of Mandela’s 67- years of being a freedom fighter. I concur that this whole hype of turning Mandela Day into Graffiti Day must be subjected to investigation.

We all know what Mandela Day should be but maybe we need to debate what it should not be. I watched in my neighbourhood and on television as scores of people flocked to schools, crèches, orphanages, clinics etc with paint and brushes over the weekend as their celebration of Mandela Day. I found the gesture quite noble. Those structures obviously would have used another coat or two, which is what the hordes of charitable South Africans provided.

However I was surprised to see community leaders in some areas converging to schools with questionable reputations with hundreds of litres of paint to gloss their reputations. They say ‘no matter how much lipstick you put on a frog it will remain as ugly as it is’. There are schools in Bushbuckridge whose reputation is teachers who sleep with learners and later get support from their unions when they are called to account. There are civic leaders and School Governing Body members in these communities who don’t want to hound these teachers because they don’t want to rock their fragile friendships.

And for me seeing the same hypocrites pretending to care by painting the same schools helped by the same teachers got me wondering if the 67-minutes couldn’t have been better spent discussing with these paedophiles asking why are they abusing their authority over teenage girls? What’s the point of covering cracks of a decaying moral fibre with oil paint when the decay will continue unabated?

I have seen politicians donating clothes, blankets, food and houses to the needy on Mandela Day. And what I have always observed is that none of them use their own money to extend this charity. They use government resources to buy credit for a service they should be delivering everyday – not only on July 18. People must use their own cash to show their gratitude to Mandela. Otherwise, all our activities will soon be as tired as the paint left on the walls, which might not stand the test of Spring.

It is futile to think that paint will wash the conscience of our nation and the sins committed behind classroom doors. All it will do is to hide our shame, conceal the cracks and once Mandela Day has lost its novelty – expose us for the hypocrites we really are.

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