Mandela Day and the coming revolution

2012-06-30 08:41

In a little over three weeks we, along with the world, will celebrate the birth and leadership of the de facto father of our nation: Tata Nelson Mandela.

So appreciative is the world of his example that July 18 has been declared Nelson Mandela International Day – not unlike a Worker’s Day or a World Health Day. Yup, it’s a rather big deal.

And for all the myriad reasons we can debate why Nelson Mandela’s birthday is or should be a big deal, here’s my favourite.

In the wake of our Youth Day commemoration I noted just how many of our days of national significance are about the memory of a generation and their respective acts that changed their world – the youth of 1976; the December 16 revitalisation of a Boer people’s spirit with their triumph at Ncome River and later the revitalisation of hope in an embattled race with the formation of Umkhonto weSizwe; and, of course, the April 27 break from a repressive past and miraculous formation of a new nation through consensus and relatively little bloodshed.

Indeed, Freedom Day marks the definitive revolution – an all-encompassing change fostered by scores of participants throughout the years.

These are all moments of great upheaval in our country’s status quo, and yet in their commemoration we are asked to do no more than simply reflect on their history.

We are asked to be ordinary, and do ordinary things (things we would do on any weekend, really) to celebrate extraordinary moments.

Nelson Mandela International Day, on the other hand, asks more of us.

It asks us to become the architects of our own future days of significance, days that will recount how we ended poverty and how we finally buried the sceptre of racism and how we redefined what makes us valuable.

And how did these things together, as one united people.

Can you imagine it – the Week of Building could recount the time all South Africans finally got together and eradicated the housing backlog, or better yet, the Day of the New Vow could remind future generations of the day we decided to become the world’s leading learning nation, becoming global forerunners in maths, science and innovation?

You see, for as much as we will be united in celebrating a great man that came from within our midst, Nelson Mandela’s birthday gives us all an opportunity to discover the greatness within ourselves.

And that’s why I think it’s a big deal.

Often we are reminded of how much greatness we lack – the daily headlines tell us so.

But the ethos of Nelson Mandela Day reminds us of how much we have, and, hey, we all have an hour, at the very least, to give towards developing and enabling our communities.

We all have something to contribute, and we are called upon to exercise this contribution.

The revolutionary thing about this ethos is that it isn’t actually new, it’s something many of us grew up within our homes – the joy of service for service’s sake.

It’s something that’s been unpopular for a while, but, like a prodigal child, it is making its way home. We must give thanks to Madiba for inspiring this way of commemorating his life.

I have no doubt that, like this ethos, we South Africans will find our way home, the more we practise it, the more we seek to make each day a Mandela Day.

In this way, July 18 will eventually stop being just about one man but about mankind.

In the pursuit of this goal, Cheesekids will once again host a Mandela Day event and Unity Celebration Concert in three cities on Sunday July 15.

South Africans from all backgrounds are invited to participate alongside their families and friends in performing acts of service for 67 minutes – and longer.

We’ll have shuttles to and from the events, more than a dozen interesting ways to give back and kiddies’ areas, and no doubt a great time to be had by all.

And although that might sound “cool”, here’s the really “cool” part – we’re going to do this on every other day of national significance, every other public holiday.

We’ll be taking a step closer to making every day a Mandela Day, and we’d like to do so together, with you.

To join us, go to

Happy birthday, Madiba. Long may you continue to inspire us to our greatest selves.

» Sisulu is the founder of Cheesekids

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