As the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s determination and resilience helped overcome an apartheid regime and cement his status as an international peacemaker. Ten years ago, the United Nations General Assembly began to commemorate this special person on his birthday, 18 July. Since then, World Nelson Mandela Day has been celebrated using special hashtags #ActionAgainstPoverty and #MandelaDay. 

Mandela left office in 1999, but his policies and legacies continue to shape the social landscape of South Africa beyond a dismantling of an oppressive apartheid regime. In 2000, a quarter of 15-45 year old South Africans tested positive for HIV/AIDS, which amounted to over four million people. Nelson Mandela advocated for treatment and future prevention in a groundbreaking agenda. Today, while HIV+ rates remain high at 18.9%, South Africa has a fully funded HIV programme with 90-90-90 targets, the first of which was reached in 2017 – 90% of the population are now aware of their HIV status. Nelson Mandela’s determination to tackle this issue in governmental policy began this long road to a manageable epidemic. 

The clause with World Nelson Mandela Day is to honour Mandela’s sixty-seven years of public service with sixty-seven minutes of selfless acts to help others in your community. The Nobel Peace Prize Winner founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 1999, an organisation which works as “a committed facilitator of his living legacy … to promote his lifelong vision of freedom and equality for all”. The Foundation organises World Nelson Mandela Day alongside the UN, working to honour the statesman while encouraging international positive difference. This 18 July, it is worth remembering the impact that a single person can have in securing a brighter future for our world – and to carry that inspiration forward. 

Photo courtesy of Jeanne Menjoulet via Flickr

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