JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela’s birthday, July 18, is an international day of service.
People are asked to give 67 minutes of their time doing something charitable - one minute for each year that Mandela dedicated to his struggle for social justice. Mandela's 95th birthday celebration this year is overshadowed by his ongoing hospital stay. Involved South Africans say that will only push them, though, to make this the biggest Mandela Day ever.
Mandela dedicated his life to giving South Africa the biggest gift he could imagine: freedom.
On his 91st birthday, this extraordinary man finally asked the world for something in return. Since that day in 2009, July 18 has been celebrated as Mandela Day - a day with a call to charitable service.
This year, South Africa is hoping to make his 95th birthday into the biggest Mandela Day ever.
This year’s festivities are off to a raucous start in Johannesburg, at an impoverished school that also turns 95 this year. Bertrams is the oldest suburb in Johannesburg. Like Mandela, this neighborhood was a force of resistance during apartheid, defying segregation laws to become a mixed-race suburb.
The charitable initiative "Lead SA" gathered sponsors this past weekend to donate books, computers and other needed equipment to this struggling school.
Two of Mandela’s grandchildren, Zondwa and Zoleka, were on hand to encourage more good works.
“Sometimes people get worried as to, ‘where to from here?’ if one day our grandfather was no longer with us. And that reminds me of a quote by Albert Pike that says, ‘what we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do for others remains and is immortal.’ That really is a lesson that says through his legacy and through his effort, he will live on, and he will live forever,” said Zondwa.
Lead SA Chairman Yusuf Abramjee, referring to Mandela by his clan name, "Madiba," said Mandela Day should not be just one day.
“It’s not a question of 67 minutes. It’s a whole philosophy of what Madiba has been preaching for many, many years. We need to turn every day into a Mandela Day," said Abramjee. "The Mandela Day concept is a one-day concept, but every day should be turned into a Mandela Day. If we can improve the lives of any individual in a small way, we’ll be making a big difference.”
Sello Hatang has spent years poring over Mandela’s documents at the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory. He said that has given him a good idea of what to get for the man who has done it all.
“I think the greatest gift that we can give Madiba is to ensure that we make Mandela Day the biggest that has ever been," said Hatang. "Around the world, Voice of America, people who listen to and watch Voice of America, for them to also know that every small contribution you make in terms of making Mandela Day bigger will be the biggest gift you can give Madiba.”