Setting tempo for Mandela's birthdayBy BENON HERBERT OLUKA in Johannesburg | Thursday, July 12 2012 at 12:20
The birthday boy is unlikely to make a public appearance, owing to his age and health condition.
However, even that has not stopped South Africans from pulling all stops to organise a grand party scheduled for July 18, the day its former president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela turns 94. Mr Mandela dedicated the vast majority of his life towards fighting against racial segregation in his homeland – including serving a 27 years prison sentence – and South Africa utilises every available opportunity to show its appreciation.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner’s birthday has also enjoyed unique status worldwide since a November 2009 resolution by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly set it aside as an annual international day of humanitarian action to celebrate Mr Mandela’s contribution “to the culture of peace and freedom”.
The UN calls on individuals around the world to offer 67 minutes of their time every July 18 towards community service in honour of Mr Mandela’s 67 years of public service.
“This year on 18 July — Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday — the UN is joining a call by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to devote 67 minutes of time to helping others, as a way to mark Nelson Mandela International Day,” says a statement on the United Nations website. “For 67 years Nelson Mandela devoted his life to the service of humanity — as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa.”
In South Africa, activities will go on throughout what has been dubbed “Mandela Month.”
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, which Mr Mandela started serving when it was still a liberation movement and eventually led as party president between 1991 and 1997, organised a centenary lecture on July 10 as part of year-long events to mark the 100th anniversary of its formation.
While the ANC has dedicated similar lectures every month of this year for each of its former presidents, it was perhaps more than a coincidence that the one in honour of Mr Mandela was scheduled to take place during “his” month – and just a week before his birthday.
The lecture in honour of Mr Mandela was delivered by President Jacob Zuma on July 10 in the Limpopo Province. After the lecture, in which he lauded Mr Mandela’s selfless service to the ANC, South Africa and the world, Mr Zuma proceeded to launch the Nelson Mandela Legacy Bridge over the Mbashe River in the Eastern Cape Province. The 140-metre bridge symbolically connects Mr Mandela’s birthplace of Mvezo and to Qunu, where he has a home and now resides.
Yesterday (July 11), President Zuma visited Mr Mandela at his home in Qunu, where he is reported to have had a discussion and lunch with the now frail statesman. A statement from the Office of the Presidency said Mr Zuma found Mr Mandela in good health.
“It was a delight to see him as always,” said Mr Zuma. “I was particularly happy that I had an opportunity to give him good wishes for his upcoming birthday. I also informed him that as usual, all South Africans are waiting for the 18th, preparing to wish him a happy birthday in every possible way.”
Activities to mark Mandela Day in South Africa have been organised at all levels – from the government to the grassroots. The 2012 theme for the day, whose celebrations are also planned in different countries around the world, is “Take Action. Inspire Change. Make Every Day Mandela Day”.
On July 10, South Africa’s Minister of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile, launched a series of activities organised by the government to constitute the “Nelson Mandela Day Programme”.
Mr Mashatile said activities for the week-long celebrations will include unveiling of tomb stones of former freedom fighters, cleaning of graves, beautification of schools and old age homes, flying the South African flag in schools, developmental workshops for emerging artists, handing out of blankets, assisting in maintaining back yard food gardens, donation of books to community libraries, and an immunisation programme. The celebrations will culminate into a grand event at Dinokana Stadium in Zeerust.
“On that day and the weeks that follow, as South Africans we will have an opportunity to make a positive and meaningful difference in our communities.
Activities such as assisting someone to fill a form, helping an orphan to obtain an identity document or birth certificate, assisting the elderly with their shopping, volunteering at a local school and many other forms of community service may seem mundane, yet very important to those who receive such assistance,” said Mr Mashatile, adding that government officials including President Zuma and his Cabinet will all set aside time to be involved.
According to the organisers of the Mandela Day celebrations, who are partnering with The Nelson Mandela Foundation and the charity 46664 which takes its name from Mr Mandela’s prison number at Robben Island, other activities lined up for the day include the construction of 67 houses by Habitat for Humanity three South African provinces, an ascent to Mt Kilimajaro that aims to collect 67,000 sanitary pads for distribution to rural areas, a Stop Hunger Now campaign aimed at distributing special food packs to early learning centres in poor communities, as well as book handovers and road races.
An attempt is also being made to break a world record by getting more than 20 million people in South Africa to sing Happy Birthday to Mr Mandela.
The attempt to enter the Guinness Book of Records is being planned by South Africa’s Department of Basic Education and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which are being supported by the Shout Foundation, Proudly South African, Brand SA and Lead SA. They have already released a video featuring 94 musicians among others, which is aimed at encouraging people around the world to sing for the global icon.
At the launch of the pre-recorded birthday song video at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg on June 18, Panyaza Lesufi of the Department of Basic Education, said: “We are not only appealing to millions of people around the world to do 67 minutes of community service on July 18 – but also to show how much we love Tata [Father] by singing a very special Happy Birthday song to him.”
Lead SA’s Yusuf Abramjee explained when the public would be expected to join in singing for Mr Mandela. He said, “Whether you at home, in your car, in the street, in a factory or office or at school at 8am on July 18, take a minute and sing the special Happy Birthday song. Let’s make his 94th birthday, the magic of legends and an enduring memory. We want to give him his best birthday present ever - The love of the world”.
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