For Peace and Freedom
After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended. – Nelson Mandela
Those are the last words from the book ‘Long Walk To Freedom’, the autobiography of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Those exact words define the life story of a great leader in a single sentence. A leader who struggled but never gave up and fought against the social evils such as apartheid and poverty. Even after winning the long fight against apartheid, the deeply respected ‘Madiba’ worked extensively for the welfare of the society. That says lots about the character of South Africa’s ‘Father of The Nation’. And to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, every year, on the 18th day of July, the Nelson Mandela International Day, also known as Mandela Day, is observed. In November 2009, the UN General Assembly declared 18 July “Nelson Mandela International Day” in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom. The General Assembly resolution recognises Mandela’s values and his contribution in the areas such as conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality, and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the fight against poverty and the promotion of social justice. It appreciates his dedication towards the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.
So, this year marks its 9th anniversary but this one is extra special. Mandela Day 2018 marks 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela. The Centenary is an occasion to reflect on his life and legacy, and to follow his call to “make the world a better place.” This day asks the individuals to make a difference in their communities. Everyone has the ability to change the world for the better and inspire others and Mandela Day gives the perfect opportunity to begin doing that. How Mandela fought for the rights of the black population in South Africa, to the extent that he spent 27 years of his life in a prison on Robben Island (which is now a museum) for the cause, is an epitome of the fact that all it takes is strong will power and determination to fight against any social injustice.
Mandela Day also celebrates a campaign known as ‘46664’. 46664 was the prison number of Mandela in the Robben Island Prison. The campaign was originally launched to create awareness about HIV/AIDS although later on, its focus extended to broader humanitarian work. At the time of his release from prison in 1990, nearly one percent of South African adults were already HIV-Positive. It is believed though that Mandela did little to fight the deadly disease until his son Makgatho died of the same in 2005. Nelson Mandela had a special connection with India too. India awarded him with the Bharat Ratna, nation’s highest civilian honour straight after his prison release in 1990, making him the first non- Indian recipient. This was even before he had shared the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993 with the then South African President FW de Klerk. Mandela regarded Mahatma Gandhi as his ‘political guru’ and ‘role model’ and therefore, the first destination he visited abroad after spending 27 years behind bars was India. He always praised Gandhi for his principles of ‘Satya and Ahimsa’ and followed his philosophy. Mandela knew all about Gandhi’s initial fight against apartheid when he was in South Africa. How despite being in possession of a first-class ticket, he was thrown out of a train coach at the Pietermaritzburg station as it was “reserved for whites” and that inspired Gandhi to contemplate about racial discrimination ultimately leading to the birth of the passive resistance: Satyagraha. Gandhi’s way of thinking and acting had a huge impact on Mandela which helped him in establishing the African National Congress as a mass-based organisation. As a strong follower of Gandhi’s teachings, Mandela was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize in 2001 for his peace-making efforts by the Indian Government.
United Nations has been encouraging people to celebrate Mandela Day by continuing the efforts that Madiba made throughout his life to make the world a better place to live. The UN Staff around the world have made led the way in this regard by through various activities – from building houses to offering school supplies to children and many others. In 2012, UN staff volunteered at the Bowery Mission, preparing and serving food to homeless men and women. In 2013, UN staff in New York helped in rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. And recently, in 2017, UN staff in New York partnered with the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, NYC Service and the Randall’s Island Park Alliance to help keep the harbor healthy by cleaning the shorelines of litter and invasive plants. All these incidents are enough to motivate the people around the world to take charge and start working for the welfare of humankind.
The theme of this year’s Mandela Day is ‘Action Against Poverty’ as the man himself believed that “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” The Nelson Mandela Foundation has decided this 2018 to make every day a Mandela Day by encouraging everyone to take action against poverty in a way that will bring about a sustainable change. A massive step in this direction is soon to begin when twelve volunteers from various countries including South Africa England and Canada will go on a 67-day trip (Mandela fought for social justice for 67 years) from Cape Town to Cairo to raise funds for the construction of a free Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college in Pretoria. The great Madiba followed three rules throughout his life- free yourself, free others and serve every day. If each and every one of us follows those rules and does a good deed every single day, we can maintain his legacy and build the world of our dreams. So, go on. Make a new friend. Read to someone who can’t. Help out at the local animal shelter. Grab the blankets you no longer need and give them to someone in need. This Mandela Day, take action! Inspire change!