Why you should care
Because Nelson Mandela’s example continues to be relevant to our world today.
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WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? Nelson Mandela International Day, declared by the United Nations in 2009, has become an occasion to reflect upon the South African leader’s life and legacy and follow his example to make the world a better place. Celebrated each year on Mandela’s birthday, July 18, this year’s Mandela Day is particularly significant because it marks 100 years since the birth of the global icon, who died in 2013 at the age of 95.
Why does it matter? One of the 20th century’s most influential freedom fighters, Mandela emerged from nearly three decades in prison to become South Africa’s first Black president and help his country transition to a post-apartheid regime. While the Nobel Peace Prize winner achieved prominence for defeating White minority rule in South Africa, Mandela also pursued a variety of other social causes. Among them: pushing for women’s rights, delivering better opportunities for impoverished rural children and promoting scientific research throughout Africa — on top of serving as a symbol for civil rights movements worldwide.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Obama’s back. The former U.S. president delivered the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture’s keynote speech on Tuesday, in which he urged the world’s youth to continue the leader’s legacy of fighting for justice and equality. For Obama — who delivered a eulogy at Mandela’s 2013 funeral — it was the highest-profile public address since he left office in early 2017, intended to show “we have been through darker times before, and we can overcome these challenges to keep Mandela’s vision alive,” according to Ben Rhodes, his longtime adviser.
And many others are joining in too. World leaders including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf were also in attendance for the event, held a day before Nelson Mandela International Day. The 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth will be celebrated throughout the year and include actions such as a charity motorcycle ride, a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro and an array of cultural events culminating in a December festival in the South African capital featuring Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran, among others.
Call it a permanent revolution. While the political spirit of Mandela has been claimed by a host of modern South African parties, none might assert louder to be his rightful ideological heir than the African National Congress, which has governed the country on the national level since the post-apartheid era began in 1994. After replacing Jacob Zuma as president with Mandela protégé Cyril Ramaphosa, the party looks to be going into the 2019 elections likely to win again. That comes after a low point in their support, due largely to corruption charges against Zuma.
No justice, no peace. Political repression and police abuse have remained issues in post-apartheid South Africa. In 2012, police killed 34 striking miners of the Marikana platinum mine. Attacks on businesses of refugees and migrants have hit the news in occasional waves since the country opened itself up to the rest of Africa. Moreover, dissatisfied with continued economic inequality, lawmakers voted in favor last year to allow land expropriation from White owners without compensation.
WHAT TO READ
The Deep History Behind Barack Obama’s Speech for the Centennial of Nelson Mandela’s Birth, by Olivia Waxman in Time
“[T]he speech will also have implications that stretch far beyond the personal. After all, the histories of the fights for racial justice in the United States and in South Africa have been closely intertwined for more than a century.”
Nelson Mandela’s Unpublished Prison Letters Are Full of Life and Love, by Gillian Slovo in The Guardian
“Because the prison authorities would delay his letters — sometimes not sending them — and would hold up or confiscate replies, he never knew whether they’d been received.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Remembering South African Leader Nelson Mandela
“Nelson Mandela was a towering man of myth and legend, of action and passion, of selfless sacrifice. And … he became the embodiment of a decades-long struggle against White oppression.”
Watch on PBS NewsHour:
Former U.S. President Barack Obama Delivers the Nelson Mandela Lecture
“[W]e have to start by admitting that whatever laws may have existed on the books, whatever wonderful pronouncements existed in constitutions, whatever nice words were spoken … in the halls of the United Nations, the previous structures of privilege and power and injustice and exploitation never completely went away.”
Watch on Obama Foundation on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER
Securing his legacy. Among the more peculiar ways of commemorating Mandela’s legacy was a charity auction offering one lucky winner a night in the freedom fighter’s former prison cell. Bidding began at $250,000 before the action drew widespread condemnation, forcing the company to postpone — but not cancel — the auction.