JOHANNESBURG - People around the world celebrated “Mandela Day” 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 aged 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 in 2009, and has expanded to 126 countries this year.
For the first Mandela Day after his death, events were planned in Paris, New York, Dallas, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, while a film portraying his life was to premiere in China.
In South Africa itself, suggested tasks for citizens ranged from cleaning a school to adopting a penguin.
Newspapers have also weighed in with suggestions to volunteer in orphanages, donate books to schools or blankets to the homeless, or even to sterilise stray cats. President Jacob Zuma called on South Africans to bring out their brooms and mops and help spruce up their country.
“This year, we have decided to honour 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” - prompting some grumbles from taxpayers complaining that it should be the government’s job.
Zuma himself participated in cleaning a school in Mvezo in the Eastern Cape, the village where Mandela was born July 18, 1918. He was then due to unveil a statue of the liberation hero. Another theme for this year is food security in a nation where a quarter of the population goes hungry.
Citizen activist group LeadSA encouraged South Africans to plant vegetable gardens and donate food to feeding schemes “in the true spirit of active citizenship”.
And in a country notorious for high crime rates, one person even offered a 67-minute course in self-defence.
Among the international tributes, Google honoured Mandela through its famous logo, while in Glasgow his granddaughter Tukwini Mandela was the guest of honor at a ceremony in memory of her grandfather.
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 were urged to ask friends and colleagues to post pictures of their good deeds on social media.
Politicians have also capitalised on the event to polish their own image, announcing where they will be rolling up their sleeves in the hope of media coverage.