IN the run-up to the sixth annual Mandela Day a number of newspapers reminded us that we were expected to drop everything on Friday and venture forth to commit various acts of random kindness upon an unsuspecting populace.
Perhaps it's a sign of our cynical, uncaring age, or maybe just a symptom of a media that infantilises the news, but some newspapers even presumed that we'd forgotten what, exactly, acts of random kindness were and helpfully provided examples of same.
Some seemed fairly innocuous. "Cook a hearty meal for someone less privileged than you." "Drop off a soft toy at your local police station for abandoned and abused children." "Read newspapers or books to residents of an old-age home." No harm there.
But others were, frankly, problematic. "Tutor children in the bottom 15% of their grades in subjects you have knowledge of." "Read to and play with young people at your local crèche." "Bake something for local police on night shift to cheer them up."
The recent criminal trial and conviction of entertainer Rolf Harris and the inquiry into the late Jimmy Savile's creepiness have provided evidence enough to suggest that the less adults play with the kids the better for all concerned.
And those supposedly knowledgable people who tutor children? They're known as "teachers", and some of them - notwithstanding the best efforts of the Department of Basic Education - are actually very good at their jobs.
As for baking treats for the Plod, well, there was a celebrated case in Durban, in July last year, in which nine night shift cops from the Montclair police station were hospitalised after "unwittingly" eating a batch of muffins allegedly laced with dagga.
The "space muffins", as the Daily News called them, were apparently baked by a colleague celebrating her birthday. The newspaper reported that, two hours after eating them, the officers began hallucinating while others experienced symptoms of paranoia. One source revealed, "They were all high as kites. One of the members just sat in a corner and was laughing for no reason. They didn't know what was happening to them. A lot of them were confused and couldn't explain what they were feeling."
This is a serious matter. A policeman who laughs when you report a burglary or claim that you haven't had anything to drink all night is scary enough, but one who laughs for no reason? That's madness.
Still, it is churlish to mock the intentions of those who'd want us to do charity work. And nobody yet, at least, has suggested we should kill people for our country - which is, apparently, the sort of thing Mandela was prepared to do, and was supposedly one of his more redeeming qualities.
This, at least, is according to Julius Malema, one of the great public intellectuals. As our very own anti-Bertrand Russell, he is familiar with such concepts of selfless sacrifice, having once declared that he would kill for President Jacob Zuma.
Malema was addressing the Economic Freedom Fighters' first anniversary celebrations at the University of Limpopo on Thursday and, after attacking Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, accusing them of being defenders of "white capital", he turned to praise Mandela.
"Madiba was ready to kill for this country," Malema said. "We have to follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela. He serves as an inspiration."
Here at the Mahogany Ridge we're not quite sure if anyone, least of all Madiba, really deserves such a following.
Elsewhere, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe compared Malema to Adolf Hitler at a Mandela Legacy memorial lecture, claiming that his strategy to popularise the EFF was, as the Pretoria News put it, "complete with the uniform and liberation repertoire" of the Nazis.
This is a wee bit rich coming from a man who has modelled himself on Joseph Stalin, albeit in the form of a portly goblin, and who serves on the executive of a party that, when it comes to Nazi-like uniforms, has a fair number of brown shirts in its closet - literally and perhaps figuratively. This week, an ANC volunteer did the party no favours when, to protest Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip, she posted on her Facebook page a picture of Hitler with the words, "I could have killed all the Jews, but I left some of them to tell you why I was killing them."
Malema, meanwhile, has responded to Mantashe by saying that, if he was going to be Hitler, then it was the ruling party's fault. "This is a Hitler produced by the ANC," he said. "I will not kill anyone who is innocent."
It is greatly reassuring that Malema believes he is capable of such kindness.
This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.
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