A few weeks ago, journalists and media were writing the obituary of the great man. It is a sign of his stamina and perseverance in life that here we are today, International Mandela Day, celebrating his birthday and his contribution to mankind. The United Nations declared in 2009 that the 18th July would be forever International Mandela Day.

By doing this, the UN recognised Mandela’s “values and his dedication to the service of humanity” and acknowledged his contribution “to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world”. Mr Mandela said in 2008 “It is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now.” As part of this rally to action, the UN, governments and civic organisations urge people today to contribute 67 minutes of their time to actions which benefit your community. The number 67 is symbolic of the years Mr Mandela spent since 1942 up to 2009 in civic action and public service.

Mr Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said in a statement today: “This is the best tribute we can pay to an extraordinary man who embodies the highest values of humanity.” He stressed that the essence of Nelson Mandela International Day is good works for people and the planet, adding that the event is meant to “mobilize the human family to do more to build a peaceful, sustainable and equitable world.”

In South Africa, this call to action has more resonance and meaning. Many individuals, schools, companies and organisations of all kind have made their effort to contribute today. Some actions have been impressive in scale or numbers and some not but that is not the point: the point is to contribute. For example:

  • The Dominican School for Deaf Children in Cape Town telling stories for preschool children
  • Hundreds of individuals have joined hands and formed a prayer circle in Gugulethu township.
  • The department of Health of the Free State have given balloons and sweets for children at Universitas Hospital oncology ward.
  • Woolworths head office employees are packing food parcels for 10 children’s homes.
  • Holy Rosary Grade 7 girls in Johannesburg have been making sandwiches to be donated to Edenvale Methodist Church’s soup kitchen.

So as we say, Happy birthday Mr Mandela, we will leave the last words to the great man himself:

“It always seems impossible until its done.”

International Mandela Day by Nicolas Edwards

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