The annual International Mandela Day was launched on 23 May with several of South Africa’s most popular celebrities taking time out to roll up their sleeves and fix a partly dilapidated school in Soweto, Johannesburg.
Working under the theme “Take action and inspire our youth for tomorrow” they toiled alongside officials from the UN Information Centre (UNIC) as well as employees of several large corporates to get a head start to their 67 minutes for Mandela. South Africans and the world at large are urged every year to spend 67 minutes doing a good deed for someone less fortunate than themselves as a way of observing Mandela Day.
Singer Danny K, rapper and presenter ProVerb, model and presenter Bonang Matheba and fashion designer Gert Johan Coetzee painted the walls of two container classrooms at Tlhatlogang Junior Secondary School in White City Jabavu, Soweto. The school was selected by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory as the launch venue.
The voices of SA
“All South African artists have a close connection with Madiba,” said Danny K, referring to Mandela by his clan name. The singer challenged musicians at the launch to give their voices, all the while reminding guests of the vital role young people play in society.
“Providing them with an education and a good start in life can help them overcome challenges,” he said.
Danny K is also part of the SHOUT campaign, an initiative that raises awareness on issues related to crime in South Africa.
Matheba has also been busy with her initiative called “Carry Yourself with Confidence”. Her aim with the project is to reach 6.7 million girls by the end of 2012 across through motivational talks.
“I believe that God gives to you so that he can give through you, and that is the message I want to send to young girls,” she said.
Addressing pupils, ProVerb called on them to not only engage in their own 67 minutes of good deeds, but to also encourage their peers to do the same.
“They should also not just do it for Mandela Day, but carry on to with the spirit of goodwill in their everyday lives,” he said.
Sello Hatang, spokesperson for the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, said: “We are particularly pleased with the artists who have decided to join us and hope that all their followers will take their lead.”
Backing of corporates
Lindsey Sherman from Investec, who spoke on behalf of the Companies for Mandela Day initiative, explained the importance and benefits of employee volunteering.
She said in the past companies would just do their part on 18 July every year, but that has changed and they have now taken their efforts to include the weeks, even months prior to the day.
The Companies for Mandela Day participants have created a system that encourages staff to undertake community service throughout the year.
“This mobilises more people and encourages change makers to make their good deeds on-going and sustainable, rather than just once off,” said Nelson Mandela Day Coordinator Frank Meintjies. At least 25 companies form part of the initiative.
In some cases the participating companies have gone as far as involving their staff in ‘payroll giving’, where employees agree to a certain amount being deducted from their salaries to go to the community projects their companies support.
“This is excellent for sustainability and Mandela Day gives a boost to this on-going work, as well as bringing new employees into volunteer work,” said Meintjies.
A global movement
Speaking at the launch, CEO of the centre Achmat Dangor said “Mandela Day is proof that one small step at a time can become a global movement around the world. All that is required is action.”
Dangor called on guests to take time out of their lives to inspire change in their communities.
“We would like to remind all that the Mandela Day campaign is a call for activism in order to build better communities.”
Mandela Day was established in 2009 following the success of the former stateman’s 90th birthday commemoration the previous year. It is now officially adopted by the UN as a day to recognise the man and his efforts towards reconciliation in South Africa.
“The aim is to inspire people not just in South Africa, but all over the world to follow by his example and take action,” said Dangor.
Last year, the premier basketball league in the US, the National Basketball Association (NBA), will host their second series of basketball clinics in Alexandra, after a successful run in Soweto last year.
Another initiative that is driven by Richard Mabaso, founder of Imbumba Foundation will see him climb Mount Kilimanjaro for the first time in July.
His efforts are to raise funds and awareness for the education of girls from underprivileged backgrounds across the country.
British comedian Eddie Izzard was not to be left behind. He started a marathon race in honour of Mandela earlier in the May at Mvezo in the Eastern Cape.
“I will attempt to run 27 marathons in 27 days, as a small tribute to Mandela to symbolise the 27 years he spent in prison,” he said.
The marathons will be run all over South Africa in areas of significance to Mandela’s life, including the Eastern Cape areas of Qunu and Fort Hare. In Gauteng they will be in Johannesburg, Soweto, Pretoria and Rivonia, while Cape Town and Robben Island will have their own events. Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years at Robben Island.
‘Encouraging active citizens’
As the emphasis for Mandela Day is being placed on raising youth through decent education, the centre of memory – along with its partners - is driving some of South Africa’s most meaningful initiatives.
“We would like to encourage young people to be active citizens by participating wholeheartedly in this campaign,” said Hatang. “There are countless ways to give back and start affecting a positive change for our youth.”
The projects were inspired to improve conditions and literacy levels among youngsters from historically disadvantaged communities.
The Container Library Project driven by Breadline Africa installs container libraries at primary schools throughout South Africa, benefiting about 1000 pupils.
The 94+ Schools Project, initiated by the Department of Basic Education, has identified 94 of the country’s neediest schools for upgrades and refurbishment in honour of Mandela.
“The message of giving your time to uplift your fellow citizens is reaching people, and the spirit of volunteerism that has been shown is humbling,” said UNIC Deputy Director Helene Hoedl.
“We can only work harder by ensuring that this is more sustainable, and that we indeed make every day Mandela Day.”