A reflection on 2021 Mandela Day




Yesterday, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s Nelson Mandela International Day, also known as Mandela Day. The theme of this year’s celebration is “One Hand Can Feed Another”. The theme prioritises action against hunger and continuing fight against poverty. The Nelson Mandela Foundation calls on all Nelson Mandela Day Global Network to help alleviate hunger for millions. It highlights not only the importance of working together to build a peaceful, sustainable and equitable world but also to live everyday as Mandela Day.

The Day, observed on July 18, every year, further seeks to draw the attention of the global community to Mandela’s achievements in the areas of conflict resolution, democracy, human rights, peace, and reconciliation.

It is also a global call to action for people to recognise their ability to have a positive effect on others around them. The Day hopes to inspire people to embrace the values that Mandela shared. These values include democracy, freedom, equality, diversity, reconciliation and respect.

Many people and organisations around the world take part in many activities to promote Nelson Mandela Day. These activities include volunteering, sport, art, education, music and culture. Various events are also held on or around July 18 to honour Nelson Mandela’s works and to promote the different projects that were inspired by his altruism.

Mandela Day also celebrates a campaign known as “46664”, in reference to Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island prison number. The campaign was originally launched to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. However, its focus expanded to broader humanitarian work. The efforts from Mandela Day support the campaign’s ongoing work and other Nelson Mandela charitable organisations.

Nelson Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa, on July 18, 1918. He was one of the most well-known anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. He was jailed in 1964 for leading the liberation movement against apartheid and for his stance on the human right to live in freedom.

Mandela’s prison number was 466 and the year was 1964 when he was imprisoned on Robben Island, off Cape Town in South Africa. The Robben Island prisoners were never referred to by their names, but rather by their numbers and year of imprisonment, hence 46664 was Nelson Mandela’s number. His release from prison in 1990 fueled political debates in the country and contributed to South Africa’s transition towards a multi-racial democracy.

After his release, Nelson Mandela continued from where he left off, addressing racial issues in his country and supporting reconciliation initiatives. His efforts resulted in him becoming elected as South Africa’s president in 1994. He remained in office until 1999. He also won the Nobel Peace Prize, together with another former South African president, Frederik Willem de Klerk, in 1993. In 2007, Mandela formed the Elders, an independent group of global leaders who offered their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major human suffering causes and promote shared interests of humanity.

The five-yearly Prize aims to recognize the achievements of those who have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity as guided by the purposes and principles of the UN. The 2020 Prize was awarded to Mrs. Marianna Vardinoyannis of Greece and Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté of Guinea, selected by the UN Selection Committee. The laureates were honoured at the weekend’s commemoration of the day which was marked virtually due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The in-person award ceremony will take place at a later date at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The first Mandela Day was launched in New York on July 18, 2009, but the UN resolution to celebrate the Day occurred later that year. On November 10, 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring July 18 as “Nelson Mandela International Day”. Nelson Mandela International Day is a call to action for people around the world to make a difference in the communities where they live and work by taking time off to render selfless services to humanity.

In his message on the 2015 Mandela Day, the former UN Secretary-General, Banki Moon announced that the United Nations was bestowing the first-ever Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize, established by the General Assembly. This honorary award would be presented every five years to two individuals – a man and a woman – who, through their dedication, hard work and compassion, have built on Madiba’s legacy.

The UN Secretary, Antonio Guterres, in his message for this year’s commemoration, said, “Each year, on this day, Nelson Mandela’s birthday, we pay tribute to this extraordinary man who embodied the highest aspirations of the United Nations and the human family.”

While honouring and paying homage to Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition and social transformation, we admonish leaders across the globe, particularly those on the African continent, to emulate his qualities and virtues to better the lot of their people that are wallowing in abject poverty and underdevelopment in the midst of abundant resources.