JOHANNESBURG: People around the world will celebrate “Mandela Day” on Friday for the first time since the iconic South African leader’s death by doing good deeds on what would have been his 96th birthday.
For the past five years millions have volunteered 67 minutes of their time on July 18 for the common good to mark Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of activism for South Africa’s freedom.
Mandela died on December 5 last year at age 95 after a lengthy illness. Tens of thousands of mourners, including world leaders, attended memorial services leading up to his funeral.
The call to do good deeds in his name started in Johannesburg and New York City in 2009, and has expanded to 126 countries this year.
For the first Mandela Day after his passing, events are planned in Paris, New York City, Dallas, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, while a film portraying his life will premiere in China.
Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma has called on South Africans to bring out their brooms and mops and help spruce up their country.
“This year, we have decided to honor Madiba’s memory through a massive ‘Operation Clean Up for Madiba’ campaign,” he said, using a respectful tribal name to refer to the country’s first black president.
“We should demonstrate our love for our beautiful country by cleaning our surroundings, together,” he said.
“In this way, we will be promoting working together to build our beautiful country, which is what Madiba taught us as South Africans,” Zuma added.
Authorities have encouraged citizens to clear litter from clinics and schools, though some taxpayers grumble that that is the government’s job.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison during his struggle against white-minority rule, but forgave his former oppressors when the apartheid regime ended with free elections in 1994.
His actions to reconcile his country’s divided people earned him global respect and the Nobel Peace prize.
“His extraordinary compassion after 27 years in prison showed that human rights and equality are stronger than discrimination and hate,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week.
In the days leading up to Mandela Day on July 18, people have been urged to ask friends and colleagues to post pictures of their good deeds on social media.
Politicians have also capitalized on the event to polish their own image, announcing where they will be rolling up their sleeves in the hope of media coverage.
President Zuma will clean up a school in Mvezo, the village in the eastern Cape where Mandela was born.
Another theme for this year is food security in a nation where a quarter of the population goes hungry.