Commemorating Mandela Day in South Africa

Mandela Day is an important day in South Africa, but it’s not a national holiday. If anything it’s a national ‘work harder’ day, where people are encouraged to take a burden from others and do something that stretches them away from their normal daily duties. The idea of Mandela Day was inspired by Nelson Mandela at his 90th birthday celebrations in London’s Hyde Park in 2008 when he said: "It is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now."  The United Nations officially declared 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day in November 2009, recognising Mandela’s "values and his dedication to the service of humanity" and acknowledging his contribution "to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world".

The celebration of Mandela Day aims to serve as a global call to action for people to "recognise their individual power to make an imprint and help change the world around them for the better", says the Nelson Mandela Foundation.  

The British Council played its part: A large mob of us went to work for a partner organisation, Inner City Ambassadors, which runs a football-for-kids programme in a tough part of the centre of Johannesburg.  Part of the Premier Skills programme, Inner City Ambassadors has helped reclaim an urban park that even 5 years ago would have been inaccessible and intimidating, and we worked with them to clean their tarmac football pitch and paint their toilets, in advance of the Mandela Day Cup – a young people’s football tournament. Strangely, and in a typically South African way, one of the teams entered in the Cup was composed entirely of grannies – who despite their age were almost guaranteed to reach the final stages since no young person would dare show disrespect by tackling them. Not only was it amazingly humbling, but it was also a good team building exercise where we met some truly inspirational people choc-full of their commitment to community and the people around them.

In South Africa the focus is on ’67 Minutes for Madiba on Mandela Day’.  The 67 is the number of years that Mandela spent in public service, through struggle and in search of social justice, eventually resulting in his time as the first President of the new South Africa. dcWe spent a lot more than 67 minutes with them, and not one of us wanted to leave

Mandela said at the time of the campaign's launch that he would be "honoured if such a day can serve to bring together people around the world to fight poverty and promote peace and reconciliation".  We made our small contribution as did millions of others across South Africa and the world, united in our understanding that the power of public good doesn’t require us to hold public office, just a determination to support the legacy of Mandela by doing and living as best we can.  Every day.