It is such a simple concept; give 67 minutes of your time to make a difference in the life of someone else. Last Thursday, countless South Africans and many more people the world over dedicated their time on Nelson Mandela International Day.
The day also marked the 95th birthday of former president and the fourth Nelson Mandela International Day. The United Nations officially declared 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day in November 2009, in recognition of the 67 years former President Mandela dedicated to fighting for social justice and human rights.
The fourth edition of Mandela Day was especially poignant as the world embraced the idea of making a difference like never before. The global outpouring of support was palpable; even from his hospital bed our icon Madiba was able to unite the world once more.
Closer to home we saw children from all walks of life proudly taking part in nationwide Mandela Day campaigns. They were joined by government, business, civil society and ordinary people who all stood up and dedicated 67 minutes to continue the legacy of volunteerism that Madiba espoused.
The national pride that was unmistakeably demonstrated on Mandela Day is evidence of our maturing democracy. We came together as a country and a people to rally around a single cause. Our unity and willingness to contribute to a better society shows that the dream of a better life for all lives in us.
Since 1994 government has worked tirelessly to undo the legacy of apartheid we inherited. The journey started by President Nelson Mandela’s administration at the dawn of our democracy continues.
Change is evident in all around us; it would be fair to say that society has been fundamentally transformed and now reflects the new reality and a new nation that we continue to build. The values of democracy, equality, freedom and human rights remain central in all that we do and are enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Over the past 19 years the racial make-up of the places in which we live and our places of work has also undergone radical change. We are steadily building a more integrated society that will in time reflect the rainbow nation that Madiba yearned for.
Mandela’s words at a historic joint sitting of Parliament to mark 10 years of democracy on 10 May 2004 still ring true today: “Let us never be unmindful of the terrible past from which we come - that memory not as a means to keep us shackled to the past in a negative manner, but rather as a joyous reminder of how far we have come and how much we have achieved. The memory of a history of division and hate, injustice and suffering, inhumanity of person against person should inspire us to celebrate our own demonstration of the capacity of human beings to progress, to go forward, to improve, to do better.”
We can indeed say that we have improved and bettered the lives of our citizens in 19 years. Census 2011 results offer an unbiased assessment of how far we have come, access to household water stands at 91.2 per cent, households that use electricity for lighting stands at 84.7, the proportion of households living in formal dwellings increased from 65.1 per cent in 1996 to 77.6 per cent in 2011.
Substantial progress has been recorded in education which is widely recognized as the key to changing the lives of future generations. School enrolments for both six- and seven-year-olds stands at over 90 per cent while at the other end of the scale we have witnessed a steady increase in the matric pass rate over the past three years.
The massive housing backlog that faced the new government in 1994 is slowly being eroded. Between 1994 and 2011 approximately 2.8 million subsidised housing opportunities were created, affording millions the joy and pride of owning a home for the first time.
We are a young nation but our journey from pariah state to a thriving democracy continues to inspire the world. Much has changed since 1994, but we are aware that we must do more to entrench the legacy of Nelson Mandela and countless others who sacrificed beyond measure so that we may enjoy the fruits of freedom.
The unity of purpose displayed by our fellow South Africans on Mandela Day shines brightly as an example of what can be achieved if we all stand together. The government calls on every South African to embrace Mandela’s spirit of giving by actively contributing to make society a better place for all. Nelson Mandela and his generation have shown us the way, now it is our turn to make our actions speak louder than words.
Change begins with a simple action. It could involves giving to someone less fortunate, or mentoring a young person so that they may learn from your journey. It may be volunteering your time or knowledge so that others may benefit. Whatever it is, know that your actions and your deeds have the power to do amazing things.
Mandela Day is a celebration of the inherent good that exists within humanity. The unprecedented showing of goodwill and volunteerism that reverberated around the globe on Mandela Day and especially here in South Africa, reinforces that notion that within every individual resides the power to do good.
The government calls on all South Africans to harness the power to bring about change by working to better their communities. There are many opportunities for citizens to get directly involved in, bettering the lives of others and by doing so contributing to changing lives, communities and ultimately our country.
Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)