Few names are recognisable around the world as Nelson Mandela. When I travel and people ask where I’m from, and I say “South Africa”, they almost always say: “Ah, where Nelson Mandela is from.”
This is pretty cool for me. I remember a colleague also tipped a New York cab driver with a R20 note - it’s worth peanuts to an American, but South Africa’s currency bears Nelson Mandela’s face, so the cab driver cherished it.
This week, South Africa celebrates Mandela Day - July 18, the day Nelson Mandela was born. On this day, South Africans are encouraged to engage in charitable activities that echo the life that Mandela lived, and do at least 67 minutes of good.
Why 67 minutes? It represents the 67 years Mandela spent in public service.
Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, and died on December 5, 2013. He was 95 years old.
Madiba, as he is affectionately known, was hailed as the father of the nation, serving as South Africa’s first democratically-elected president from 1994 to 1999. Despite calls for him to serve a second term, he refused. He believed that there were others that should take the country forward, always choosing to put the nation and his political party ahead of his own personal desires.
Mandela was a controversial figure throughout much of his life. Those in the apartheid government that ruled South Africa with subjugation and segregation deemed him to be a terrorist, and had him arrested and tried for treason.
The Rivonia Trial in 1962 would become iconic for a number of reasons, but the one that possibly stood out the most, was the statement Nelson Mandela delivered from the dock, during which he explained his reasons behind helping found Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, which engaged in acts of sabotage against the apartheid government and its infrastructure.
He famously said: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Those were the closing lines of his address at the Rivonia Trial, his last public speech he would deliver for 27 years.
He spent those 27 years imprisoned on Robben Island, in Cape Town’s Table Bay, Pollmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison, now called the Drakenstein Correctional Facility.
Many expected upon his release in 1990 for him to emerge a bitter, vengeful man, but instead, he went on to preach democracy and reconciliation, much to the disdain of many who felt he was too willing to negotiate with the oppressive apartheid government.
But, that wasn’t what Madiba was about. He was a true nation-builder. He went on to be elected as the president of the African National Congress in 1991 - a position he held until 1997 - and when South Africa went to the polls for the first time in 1994, he was elected president of the country.
Mandela will always be remembered with reverence in South Africa and around the world. He was bestowed hundreds of honours - at least 250 - including the Nobel Peace Prize, but is remembered more for his love of children and their well-being, especially later in his life.
He famously said: “The true nature of a nation is measured by how it treats its children.”
So, this Mandela Day, what is it that we here at ANAplus would like you to do?
My challenge to you is not to do good for 67 minutes on July 18. Rather, let’s live a life in honour of Madiba. Let’s live to serve, because how else can Africa rise to her full potential if we don’t help each other build our continent up?
If Madiba spent 67 years in public service, we owe it to his memory to do our best to emulate him a little bit, every day.
This is NewsByte on ANA+; we make Africa matter.