Mandela – South Africa’s first democratic president and a world-renowned figure for peace – turns 92 on Sunday, July 18.The day is recognised in South Africa every year, with Mandela appearing on the front page of almost every newspaper in the country and hundreds of thousands of people sending him birthday messages.However, in November, the United Nations declared July 18 International Nelson Mandela Day.
Coincidentally, the first official celebration of International Nelson Mandela Day will take place in Madrid, the capital of Spain. This will no doubt add more jubilance to a nation that is still revelling in its victory at the World Cup. Mandela was at the final match, despite his frail health and a recent family tragedy. Madrid have been celebrating the lead-up to Nelson Mandela Day with a series of events, using entertainment, art, music, sport, education and community service to motivate public participation.Others are also rallying to get people inspired: the UN held an informal general assembly today (Friday), and their offices around the world have organised celebratory events.
The Elders – a group of respected global leaders founded by Mandela – have released a video supporting Nelson Mandela Day and encouraging people to take part. Jimmy Carter, Gro Brundtland and Desmond Tutu were among those who appeared in the video. Internationally, the focus of the today is to do good for society, honouring Mandela’s work. People are therefore being urged to dedicate 67 minutes – the number of years Mandela spent fighting for the freedom and human rights of South Africans – of their day towards community work.
“Mandela doesn’t belong to South Africa alone,” said Sello Hatang, spokesman for the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. “We welcome that people from around the world observe this day, and we ask that when they do, whichever country they are from, they dedicate time to work in their community.”In South Africa, a myriad of activities are planned to mark the day, mostly centred on charity and community service.
Among the most noticeable events is a motorcycle ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town, with 21 South African celebrities participating. Actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the film Invictus, is among the support crew travelling with the bikers. But, Mandela himself is highly unlikely to attend any of the events. He mostly spends his birthdays celebrating in private with his family. Hatang said only that this was Mandela’s “private time”.
This year, in particular, has been a rollercoaster for the former president. Besides the excitement of the World Cup, he also commemorated the 20th anniversary of his release from prison on February 11. And, in a tragic turn of events on June 10, his 13-year-old granddaughter, Zenani Mandela, died in a car accident in Johannesburg while on her way home from the pre-World Cup concert.