It is almost 20 years since the prison gates were flung open to welcome the dawn of a new day in the history of South Africa. It was a day of widespread celebrations, not only on the African continent, but throughout the world.
Mandela had become the icon of the struggle to free millions of black South Africans from the bondage and cruelty of a repressive white government that used the military, police, judiciary and corporate elite, to prolong an unjust and racist system of minority rule.
Now the world is paying tribute to a legend and bastion of freedom and democracy. The United Nations has taken the unprecedented move to declare Sunday 18th July, International Nelson Mandela Day.
Citizens of every nation were encouraged to celebrate the day by dedicating 67 minutes of community service. The 67 minutes are representative of the 67 years spent by Mandela, in providing public service to his people and the South African community.
People were challenged to follow Mandela’s example by giving back to their communities, through any voluntary service that could benefit others in a meaningful way. In South Africa, government leaders helped to fix school buildings, worked in hospitals and donated their labour to other worthy causes. Church services were also conducted throughout the country to reflect on the true meaning of the celebration and honour Mandela’s contribution to national development.
Even US president, Barack Obama, took time out of his busy domestic schedule to pay his respects and issue a release, admonishing Americans to embrace the ideals of Mandela and follow his example of what it truly means to give back to our communities, our nations and our world.
Obama said that the United States was grateful to continue to be blessed with Mandela’s extraordinary vision, leadership and spirit.
One day before his birthday, Mandela celebrated with 95 children, who were flown to Johannesburg, from his birthplace Mvezo and the village where he spent his childhood, Qunu.
It was Mandela’s idea for people to honour him by dedicating their time and service to causes that would improve the conditions of others, especially the less fortunate. In response many South African businesses and institutions mobilized their staff to undertake various community projects.
Mandela spent some 27 years in prison, between 1963 and 1990. Along with other members of the African National Congress, ANC, Mandela piloted a non violent transition to democratic rule with free elections that allowed, for the first time, one man, one vote, including the majority black population. Mandela became President of South Africa on 10th May, 1994. He served one term before retiring.