July 18th – Mandela Day celebrated the world over

As the world celebrated the former South African leader Nelson Mandela, born July 18th 1918, we are reminded of the legacy he left behind, of what good leaders look like and of how few good leaders the world has witnessed in over a hundred years.

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Established in 2009 by the United Nations, Nelson Mandela Day is an annual commemoration of Mandela’s life and lasting impact. The theme for the 2023 Nelson Mandela Day is “It’s in your hands,” with a focus on raising awareness about the influence of climate change on food production. The organisers encouraged people to participate by planting trees and cultivating food in their communities. Additionally, they aim to plant one million trees worldwide.

Nelson Mandela, a renowned world leader, profoundly influenced not only South African politics, but global policy, having played a pivotal role in improving the lives of countless South Africans. His journey to becoming South Africa’s first black president in the country’s inaugural democratic elections in 1994 was not without obstacles.

In his youth, South Africa operated under apartheid, which enforced segregation between white and black individuals, with white people holding dominion over the country’s affairs. Black people endured severe discrimination, with limited rights, no voting privileges, and restricted access to education and healthcare.

Against the backdrop of this oppressive system, Nelson Mandela ardently advocated for the dismantling of apartheid and was an active protester. However, his opposition to apartheid led to his imprisonment in 1964, where he spent several decades, famously including time on Robben Island.

Despite being labelled a terrorist by some critics, Mandela garnered worldwide support for his cause, and calls for his release grew louder. In 1990, South African President FW de Klerk’s decision to free Mandela marked a turning point. His newfound freedom after 27 years was celebrated the world over and paved the way for the end of apartheid in 1991 and the country’s first fully democratic elections in which all races were allowed to vote.

Following his election as president, Mandela worked tirelessly to foster reconciliation and unity among South Africa’s diverse population for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mandela’s support for the South African rugby team during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, despite its predominantly white composition, further demonstrated his commitment to national harmony.

Nelson Mandela’s legacy endures as one of the most celebrated and revered world leaders, known for promoting forgiveness and equality. His remarkable life continues to inspire people worldwide. While we celebrate the man, a near demi-god, we hope for another great leader, anywhere in the world, to display equal strength in character, grace and wisdom, and to lead by example.

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