Nelson Mandela International Day

Nelson Mandela, addresses the Special Committee Against Apartheid at the UN © UN Photo/P. Sudhakaran“Everyone has had their Mandela moments. I have certainly had mine,” said filmmaker Jonathan Demme at the start of the first ever commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day, July 18 at United Nations headquarters in New York.

“Nelson Mandela makes his own bed, everyday of his life, even when he stays at a hotel. I was so impressed,” said the producer of the 1996 documentary film “Mandela: Son of Africa, Father of a Nation” that chronicles Mandela’s life-long struggle for non-discrimination and democracy in South Africa.

It is a theme that was echoed throughout the events to mark the day: no one could meet Nelson Mandela without being profoundly touched by him. More than anything else, his humility and respect for the dignity of every individual has made an impression on those who met him.

“I am lucky enough to have met Nelson Mandela. Like so many others, I was struck by his charisma and charm. But I was most impressed by his humility,” said the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in a message to the General Assembly which met to commemorate the day.

Rather than take credit for his life’s work, Ban said, Mandela preferred to talk about what other people had done in the struggle for human rights and dignity.

“Nelson Mandela is a towering figure. He embodies the highest values of humanity and of the United Nations,” the Secretary-General said.

The President of the General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, concurred in his message, describing Mandela as “one of the greatest moral and political leaders of our time, an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize, the presidency of his country and international acclaim and respect as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.”

In November 2009, the General Assembly declared July 18, Nelson Mandela’s birthday, as “Nelson Mandela International Day” to be observed annually.

In taking such a rare decision, the General Assembly recognized Mandela’s “outstanding contribution to the creation of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.”  It also acknowledged 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”.
These are the values that Nelson Mandela International Day should motivate everyone to fight for, said Maite Nkoana-Mshsabane, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation. 
  “Through the Mandela Day initiative, individuals are called to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place by contributing 67 minutes of their time not only on 18 July, but to go further and make everyday their Mandela Day,” she said.
July 18 marked Nelson Mandela’s 92nd birthday. He dedicated 67 of those years to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, 27 of them spent in prison. He was freed in 1990 and won South Africa’s first multi-racial elections to become president in 1994. He retired in 1999.

20 July 2010