On July 18th 1918, Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa – a ‘region’ created specifically to home black South Africans as a part of apartheid’s racial segregation. Today, we know him by a name that he was given at primary school, and it is a name that has now become synonymous with ideas of selflessness, political resistance and a struggle for equality.
Growing up in this demonstration of discrimination, Nelson Mandela is famous today for his work as a politician, philanthropist and anti-apartheid revolutionary, having dedicated his life to combating both white and black dominance in his pursuit for total equality. He was a champion for democracy and human rights, not to mention decency, and after years of campaigning, commitment and suffering, he was finally elected to lead as South Africa’s first black head of state when he became president in 1994 – year of the country’s first fully representative democratic election.
A man of principle who inspired millions with his kindness and strength of will, Nelson Mandela was unique – he was the father of a new South Africa, and a leader of men, the likes of which only emerge once in a lifetime. When Rolihlala eventually passed away peacefully in 2013, after 67 years of public service and 27 years’ imprisonment, it is telling that the entire world mourned.
Today, Mandela Day is observed on Nelson Mandela’s birthday every year, marking and celebrating his lifetime of service to others. The day was created by the United Nations in 2009 through a unanimous vote, inspired by his 90th birthday celebrations in Hyde Park the year before, where he said to the crowds: “It is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now.”
These words inspired a movement that encourages just that. Mandela Day is a call to remind us that every person, no matter who they are, has the ability to change the world. Not only this, we also have the responsibility to act on this power for the good of humanity. The Nelson Mandela Foundation aims to inspire this change in South Africa, saying that “If each one of us heeds the call to simply do something good every day, we can live Nelson Mandela’s legacy and help build the country of our dreams.”
“The baton of leadership has been handed over to us. It is in our hands now to make a positive difference.”
A key part of the Mandela Day celebration is the 67 Minute initiative, an encouragement to everyone marking the day, from youth to world leaders, to dedicate just 67 minutes of their time to helping others – one minute for every year Mandela spent in public service.
In December 2015, the UN General Assembly decided to use Mandela Day to promote humane conditions for prisoners, in acknowledgement of the 27 years Mandela spent in prison during his campaigns for people’s rights. As he once said, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” This led to the General Assembly revising the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and re-naming them ‘The Mandela Rules’.
This year, the Foundation have chosen to dedicate July 18th to combating poverty. Until poverty has been ended, the Foundation has said, Mandela’s dreams for equality will remain just that. This dream is not just for South Africa – to date, Mandela Day is, celebrated in 149 countries around the world. In keeping with his pursuit for total equality, there are no limits on who can take part. #ActionAgainstPoverty calls us to spend 67 minutes on July 18th working to help combat poverty, either locally or globally. Better yet, it calls for us to keep the spirit of the day with us moving forwards and “to make every day a Mandela Day” by building towards sustainable change.
As Mandela said: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Visit www.mandeladay.com to see how you and others can get involved, July 18th 2017.