‘Inspire change, make every day a Mandela Day’

Africans celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day
Children of ProjectArt, a Harlem, New York summer arts camp, create Nelson Mandela inspired art and messages for peaceChildren of ProjectArt, a Harlem, New York summer arts camp, create Nelson Mandela inspired art and messages for peace.
Photograph: Africa Renewal / John Gillespie

“Happy birthday Grandpa Madiba. You remain true and the only icon to Africa.” Okero Issack Otieno, in Nairobi, shared his salute to the legendary former South African President Nelson Mandela with Africa Renewal.

The freedom fighter turned 94 on 18 July. But his birthday has also been designated as Nelson Mandela International Day by the United Nations. It is in recognition of Mr. Mandela’s leading role and support for Africa’s struggle for liberation and unity. It also hails his outstanding contribution to the struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

To mark the day, the UN has joined the Nelson Mandela Foundation to ask people to give 67 minutes of their time to help others. Mr. Otieno heeded the call by doing some charitable work in a low-income district in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “Spent my 67 minutes supporting orphans at a home in Kawangware,” he said. “Good to give back.”

Mr. Otieno is not alone in taking part in the festivities. In neighbouring Tanzania, Nuru Kessay, a student at Benjamin William Mkapa High School, recently travelled to South Africa to learn more about Mandela’s legacy. What really inspired her was his will to serve his people and fight apartheid even at the risk of his life. “I learned that all that I want to achieve is in my hands. All I want to do, I can do, no matter what experiences I pass through. As long as I have an aim and I am willing to do it, I can do it,” she told UN Radio.

Nelson Mandela’s birthday has become an annual call to action for people around the world. They have been inspired by his service to humanity. Mr. Mandela has devoted 67 years of his life to public service, as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa.

Since 2010, the UN has been holding events around the world to carry forth this legacy. This year’s theme, “Building a caring world — Nelson Mandela’s vision,” calls on people to inspire change.

Africa has been shaken up by what has been dubbed as the “Arab Spring.” In Egypt and Libya, popular protests movements toppled long-standing regimes, noted the president of the UN General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.

In his remarks at a UN gathering in New York, he said, “Mr. Mandela’s persistence in cultivating national consensus and social cohesion resonates deeply with the Arab Awakening.” Mr. Al-Nasser called on people to “rise to the challenges to realize Mandela’s vision.”

Meanwhile, Jeff Radebe, minister of justice and constitutional development in South Africa reflected on the important strides made over the years — referring to Mr. Mandela by his Xhosa clan name. “South Africa, Africa and the world have changed since 1918, when Madiba was born,” Mr. Radebe said. “Almost the entire continent of Africa was under imperialism and colonialism. It is symbolic that Madiba was born at the height of the First World War, when the dream of a peaceful world, which Mandela has tirelessly worked for, was unimaginable.”

Mr. Mandela spent 27 years in prison fighting racist apartheid rule in South Africa, and later won a Noble Peace Prize for his efforts. He has become a symbol of freedom and justice to many people around the world. His story is one of change, of hope.

“Make every day a Mandela Day,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the day, urging people to commit one minute for each year of Mr. Mandela’s own service to humanity. “Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to bring change to the people of South Africa. Our gift to him can — and must — be to change our world for the better.”

—Africa Renewal online