Currently, Nelson Mandela is in critical but stable condition according to a close friend who had stated to the South African government that the anti-apartheid leader was conscious and responsive. On July 18, he will reach the age of 95 despite having spent 27 years in prison. His work and dedication led to recognition of his achievements in a UN General Assembly resolution in 2009:
“Recognizing also Nelson Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity, as a humanitarian, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the upliftment of poor and underdeveloped communities”
I have always considered Mandela a remarkable person and I still vividly remember seeing him walk upon the stage during the closing ceremony of the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona in 2002. At the moment of his entrance, the crowd had already heard a great speech by President Bill Clinton, but Mandela topped it by finding the right balance between determination, humility, wit, and grace. His charisma was radiant, but decisive while he told us that AIDS is claiming more victims “than all wars and natural disasters. AIDS is a war against humanity … this is a war that requires the mobilization of entire populations.” He called for access to HIV drugs “for all those that need it, wherever they may be in the world, regardless of whether they can afford it.” Fortunately, we have made immense progress in the battle against AIDS since then, although we should continue to aim at furthering our successes.
Last year, when asked what would be the best gift for Mandela’s birthday, Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said the nation should “emulate his magnanimity and grace. … Mr. Mandela taught us to love ourselves, to love one another and to love our country.”
Considering the work he has done for his community, his country and the world, it indeed seems to be appropriate to have a Mandela Day which is a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time; just as Mr. Mandela did for more than 67 years. The Nelson Mandela Foundation asks all of us if we can start by devoting 67 minutes of our time to community service on Mandela Day, on July 18 each year, and then make every day your Mandela Day by doing good for others.
Of course, the number 67 is symbolic for how people can become part of a continuous, global movement for good. However, I am sure it is no coincidence that my organization, CWS has also been providing service to the world for 67 years already.
To become part of the Mandela Day movement, all that is required is an action that helps better the lives of people. To ensure that these actions will have lasting effects, people should strive for a sense of empowerment with the goal of inspiring pride among communities. In turn, they can take charge of their own destinies to work and alter their circumstances for the better. The cumulative actions of people, even if these begin with small steps, can gain a transformative momentum in this manner. Sounds familiar right?
When people hear that the name of our third child is Matisse Mandela they say, “Wow, he will have a lot to live up to.” But that’s not how I see it. For Matisse Mandela Bloem it will be just as easy as for anybody else: just start with devoting 67 minutes of time helping others, as a method to mark the Nelson Mandela International Day. After that it is just the simple task of sustaining the growth of that action. And yes, I hope wholeheartedly that many people around the world, including my organization’s staff, volunteers and friends will join this initiative as I believe it can be a great extra push to make this world a better place. When I asked Matisse what he would do, he said that he is going to clean the park nearby our house on July 18. What will you do?