Reflections on Nelson Mandela Month

By Phumla Williams

Nelson Mandela International Day is celebrated annually to honour and commemorate the life of former President Nelson Mandela. Each year on July 18, people around the world spend 67 minutes doing something positive in their communities. In South Africa, however, we dedicate the whole month of July to celebrate Madiba’s life.

The idea behind this day was inspired by Madiba himself when he challenged the next age of leaders around the world to address the injustices that continue to exist. Speaking at his 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park in 2008, Madiba said: “It is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now.”

The UN declared Nelson Mandela International Day in recognition of Madiba’s contribution “to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world”. This year marks 10 years since the launch of Mandela Day, and six years since Mandela passed away.

The 10th anniversary provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of one of the greatest leaders of our time. This was the man who dedicated his life to changing the lives of others by helping those in dire need through sharing and donation. His legacy is alive both in word and deed around the world.

There have been calls to take the initiative beyond the 67 minutes and move towards a long-term and sustained approach. Therefore, in marking the 10th anniversary, the Nelson Mandela Foundation launched a strategy to reposition Nelson Mandela International Day. The strategy encourages collaborative partnerships to support and sustain initiatives that will have a continued impact on those who need help the most. The Foundation’s view is that in the next 10 years priority should be placed on education and literacy, food and nutrition, sanitation, shelter, as well as active citizenship.

These key issues are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are a road map to address global challenges we continue to face, such as poverty and inequality.

The SDGs were adopted in 2015 to replace the Millennium Development Goals and represent an ambitious action plan for achieving sustainable development in a universal and inclusive way by 2030.

South Africa is one of the countries that adopted these goals and has incorporated them into the National Development Plan, which is the country’s blueprint to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. The NPD is being implemented by different sectors of society and has contributed to improved living conditions for millions of South Africans.

Several achievements have been made, but despite our achievements, the government is the first to admit that more still needs to be done to improve the lives of people. We need the help of all South Africans to join us in advancing Madiba’s legacy.

We encourage all South Africans to heed the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s call to celebrate Mandela Month through acts that will have a lasting impact in their communities. Let us use the 10-year anniversary to reaffirm our commitment to taking responsibility in the dismantling of the legacy of apartheid. We can do so by tackling issues as identified by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

We have a great role model in former President Mandela who dedicated his life in service of others. No matter how small the action, the aim is to change South Africa for the better.

As South Africans, we can all play our part by using the Mandela Month and beyond to contribute towards a better life for all and grow South Africa together.

Phumla Williams is an Acting Director-General at GCIS.