Every year on Nelson Mandela’s birthday, South Africans honor the man they regard as the father of the nation by doing community service — 67 minutes of it, one minute for every year of Mandela’s public service.
In 2009, the United Nations declared July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day, and asked people worldwide to do acts of service on this day.
The human rights icon died in 2013, at the age of 95. His death was mourned around the world and he was eulogized by the likes of former President Barack Obama.
In his native South Africa, he will always be affectionately known by his clan name, Madiba. This year, on what would have been his 99th birthday, university student Dimpho Molefe rolled up her sleeves and rolled mint-green paint on the classroom walls of Viva Village, a non-profit educational compound in Pretoria’s Mamelodi township.
“I think it is important because it helps us also just to understand that although apartheid has ended, there are people that are still affected by it, generations after the struggle, are still affected by it,” said Molefe, who is 21. “There are still kids who can’t go to school or who can’t get the proper food that they need.”
A few miles away, Glenton Magagela, manager of Mamelodi’s Berakah Educational Foundation, beamed as volunteers gave his care-worn classrooms a new lick of paint.
“Mandela Day is to go out there and help people, you know, not only this day but each and every day,” he said. “But today is his birthday, so all of us need to celebrate him by doing something for other people.”
But is 67 minutes enough to achieve anything? Leon Kriel, the founder of the non-profit Viva Foundation, says this one day of service often sets people on a longer path.
“It instigates something in the hearts of people,” he said. "The majority of these people we will hear from several times in the following year. Because as they come here, their hearts are ignited with a passion for people, and you find them going home, and they are never the same.”