Let us all observe Mandela Month

On 11 February 1990, hundreds of people gathered outside Victor Verster prison in the Cape for the release of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Affectionately known as Madiba, he had spent 27 years in prison fighting to secure freedom and equality for all people.

News of his release had spread around the world and he walked out of prison flanked by many people. His release was welcomed across the country and the world and most people saw him for the first time the day he was released.

His release marked the start of our march to democracy and three years later he became the first democratically elected President of South Africa. His rise to the highest office in the country was initially greeted with unease, especially by his former oppressors.

There were concerns on whether the man who once embraced an armed struggle would be able to unite warring parties and help steer the country away from what seemed to be the brink of civil war.

There is no doubt that Madiba exceeded the expectations of many people and showed that he was more than equal to the task. Madiba used his presidency to unite all South Africans and showed the world that it was possible to forgive your enemies.

Madiba not only led by example but inspired people from different political and ideological backgrounds to work together towards building a country we would all be proud of. He was a calming voice in any situation. Many will recall how he stepped up to address the nation after the assassination of Chris Hani when South Africa was on the brink of political violence.

In his address, he said: “We must not let the men who worship war, and who lust after blood, precipitate actions that will plunge our country into another Angola.”

He recognised the power of sport in bringing people together and used it to connect with everyone in the country and around the world. At the same time, he introduced initiatives such as the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) to reverse the legacy of apartheid.

His leadership inspired many people around the world to follow in his footsteps and in honour of his legacy, the United Nations declared 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day. The day honours Madiba who dedicated his life to fight for equality and justice for everyone.

The day provides us with an opportunity to learn and reflect on his style of leadership that continues to inspire many people around the world.  Mandela spoke, protested and stood up for what he believed in and he stood firm on his commitment to the cause as he turned down several offers of his conditional release from jail.

His reconciliatory message of peace and forgiving when he took over power in 1994 also touched many people around the world.

Mandela Day is used to encourage individuals to volunteer to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. Madiba always valued the importance of doing something for others, and individuals, communities and businesses can donate their time by supporting a charity or helping those less fortunate.

No matter how small the action, the aim is to change the world for the better - just as Mandela did.

In South Africa, we not only honour Madiba on 18 July but we use the whole month of July to celebrate him. We use the month to tell his stories about how he lived to inspire many of us and gave us a foundation upon which we can build on and move our country forward.

Our beloved hero may be gone but his ideals, which he sacrificed for, are still intact. We should continue to use the whole of month of July to entrench in our communities the values such as Ubuntu which Madiba lived by.

Tasneem Carrim is a Chief Director: Policy & Research at the Government Communications and Information System