Mandela Day 2016: Today, tomorrow and forever


Mandela Day 2016: Today, tomorrow and forever
by Lathasha Subban

In the words of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, “When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”[1]

[1] A Long Walk to Freedom


It is really a proud feeling that grips South Africans as we observe the world preparing for Mandela Day. South Africans work together to create greatness that was exemplified by a great man, our Madiba. A day I am hoping that will soothe the pains of racial slurring and social media outbursts; oppression of any kind and form; and instills the one thing that Madiba practiced as a leader, forgiveness. In this present day the “true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”

The SABPP supports Mandela Day because it focuses on the core competencies of HR, namely leadership and personal credibility. It seems that Madiba himself understood the key components to lead change and impart it to an entire nation. He understood citizenship for the future which would require all South African citizens to embrace their duty to society. Nelson Mandela inspired us at the SABPP and it is evident within our Competency Model framework below.


As Mandela Day nears, companies and organisations prepare to change lives and make a difference. For 67 minutes on the 18 of July, they plan and work together on projects and initiatives that resonate with the legacy of Nelson Mandela. They celebrate his iconic leadership and his dream for a united South Africa.


In the spirit of celebrating Mandela Day, the SABPP has recently launched their HR Citizen Committee that creates meaningful high impact opportunities for HR Professionals to become active citizens in their own profession and society more generally.  It also provides them with opportunities to develop their leadership skills by participating in HR and community projects impacting directly on society. Thus, HR Citizen empowers HR professionals to apply the two competencies of Duty to Society and Citizenship for the future as embodied in the South African HR Competency Model.

[A] citizen: is a native or naturalized member of a state or nation, who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection.

Citizenship: is the state of being vested with the rights, privileges and duties of a citizen. Or, it is the character of an individual viewed as a member of society; and the behavior in terms of the duties, obligations and functions of a citizen. So says the modern authority of                                                                                                                           

The newly appointed HR Citizen Committee Chairperson is Sivaan Marie, who emits the drive to impact society and uplift it through the SABPP HR Competency Model.


“How will South Africa judge the character of those citizens of South Africa that ply their trade in the (developing) profession of Human Resources? How do the role players in the field of Human Resources [hereinafter, the HR Fraternity] behave in terms of their duties, obligations and functions of a citizen of the South African nation?

We aim to influence the future answers to such questions by strategically planning, influencing and directing the activities of HR professionals, starting with the membership base of the SABPP. The HR Citizenship committee recognises that action is needed to improve the state of our society; and that we have a vital and potentially pivotal role to play in sparking and kindling such action. We aim to focus on the unique set of resources and skills that are available to, and contained within, the HR fraternity, and to leverage those resources and skills to constructive action, which will result in measurable improvement in our society, (and specifically in the area of human resources). “

The committee is uniquely positioned to understand the HR needs of our society, and should therefore be able to play a constructive role in directing the development of talent entering the pool today, as well as in future. The committee’s role is a potentially transformative one, which helps society in some measurable way from where it is, in the direction that we believe it should be headed.

It was our former President Nelson Mandela who said that education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world. It is therefore fitting that one of the first partnerships that the HR citizenship committee will embark on will explore how we can use the resources of the HR fraternity to contribute positively to the South African school’s system. Acknowledging that schools are the natural breeding ground of all the talent that enters into the South African Human Resource Environment.

SABPP HR Citizen Committee’s key motivators:

  • How do HR professionals contribute to the improvement of the development of South African talent?
  • What response will history record from the HR fraternity to the South African issues of inequality, education, poverty and unemployment?
  • How do we leverage the resource pool and skills set of the HR Profession and its allies, to constructively contribute to job creation; poverty alleviation, access to quality education, and the elimination of inequality in our society?

These motivators direct the focus that the HR Citizenship Committee will endeavor to answer as it crafts a plan of action that seeks to mobilise the membership of the SABPP and the HR fraternity, to action that will ensure proudness of our behaviour in terms of the duties, obligations and functions of our citizenship; proud of our character when viewed as members of this society that we form an inextricable part of.

A – Active:  HR Professionals must be active citizens in transforming society

C – Collaboration: HR Professionals must collaborate and mobilise to build and impact society

T – Transformation:  Transforming society in creating a better country is key

I –  Impact: We need to make a difference to society by delivering tangible & sustainable results

V – Volunteer:  We volunteer our time, energy, resources and skills to improve society

E – Empowerment: We must empower communities with opportunities and skills

[The] SABPP HR Citizen Committee vs [South African issues of] Inequality, Education, Poverty and Unemployment

Employment is a core element around which the other critical issues in South African society appear to pivot.  If unemployment was eradicated, it would have a positive knock-on effect on poverty and inequality etc. It will also alleviate the socio-economic stress that has impacted the South African GDP. With an increasing unemployment rate South African companies are further encouraged to create opportunities for employment, whilst still maintaining their sustainability and profitability. A clear indicator of the many dynamics impacting HR professionals and their people practices.


Education and Employment, however, are subject to the chicken and the egg conundrum. Employed people can better access quality education vs better access to quality education allows people to be employed. As per the World Economic Global Competitiveness report 2015-2016 performance overview of South Africa out of 144 countries:

South Africa climbs seven places to reach 49th, reversing its four-year downward trend thanks largely to increased uptake of ICTs—especially higher Internet bandwidth—and improvements in innovation (up by five places to 38th), which establish the economy as the region’s most innovative. South Africa also hosts the continent’s most efficient financial market (12th) and benefits from a sound goods market (38th), which is driven by strong domestic competition (28th) and an efficient transport infrastructure (29th). It further benefits from strong institutions (38th), particularly property rights (24th) and a robust and independent legal framework. Reducing corruption (76th) and the burden of government regulation (117th) and improving the security situation (102nd) would further improve institutions. The country also needs to address its inefficient electricity supply (116th) and inflexible labor market (107th). Even more worrisome are health (128th) and the quality of education (120th), where higher secondary enrollment rates will not be enough to create the skills needed for a competitive economy.”


Looking at the issue from a global lens its drives the very point of whichever way this conundrum is viewed education and employment are vital drivers of growth, opportunity and competitiveness, and the following remains valid for HR professionals.

HR professionals are uniquely positioned to contribute to the positive and constructive transformation of our own society, and specifically that sub-set of society that is, or should be, engaged with the world of work. If the professionals accept that the HR fraternity are the natural gatekeepers of access into, and indeed development within, the working world, then we must accept with responsibility that:

  • we sit in a position of privilege when measured against the rest of society, and the job-seeking segment of society in particular;
  • this privileged position allows us greater insight than most into the challenges facing job-seekers;
  • we are thus better positioned than most to craft, or at least provide insight into, potential solutions to these challenges;
  • alternatively, if we reject the “solution provision” paradigm, we are, at the very least, better positioned than most, to help inform and equip job-seekers to improve their chances of success when facing those identified challenges.

If we accept the above, then we cannot escape the duty that our privileged position tasks us with the duty to use our privilege to further the interests, and/or the prospects of success, of job-seekers and future job-seekers in our society. Hence the creation of the SABPP HR Citizen Committee is to uphold that responsibility by:

  • identifying the areas of opportunity to discharge that duty;
  • Within these identified and accepted areas of opportunity:
    • identify existing projects that the HR fraternity can engage constructively with in the above regard;
    • conceptualize new projects that the HR Fraternity can engage constructively with in the above regard;
    • prioritise these projects based upon:
      • urgency of the underlying need
      • potential impact
      • prospects of success
      • availability of resources
      • alignment to other SABPP strategic objectives, etc.
  • develop plans of action which will best leverage the unique set of resources and skills that reside within the HR fraternity;
  • source and mobilise resources to execute those plans;
  • manage the execution of those plans;
  • measure the impact of the above projects;
  • report on the above projects.

The SABPP is taking their “first steps” with their HR Citizen Committee to lead the HR fraternity and encourage their participation in solving South African challenges. Just like our great and missed Madiba, the professional body wants to create a legacy in driving HR professionals to greater heights of people practices. We seek to inspire, support and position HR and create a Mandela Day initiative through our projects throughout the year. We encourage and support Mandela Day and we resonate with South Africa in celebrating the day with great initiatives that are life changing. We would like to wish all South Africans and the global audience a successful Mandela Day and leave you with the inspiration of our Madiba:

“A leader. . . is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind.”
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela:  Famous Quotes of Nelson Mandela



This article was written by Lathasha Subban, Head: Knowledge and Innovation of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) with contributing author Sivaan Marie.  


For more information, you can follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1 or visit their website on



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s