Cover image: Nelson Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela Day

Every 18th of July.

Honouring the late Nelson Mandela by working in our communities.

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Updated 1 year ago

About the event

Nelson Mandela day was declared an official UN observance in 2010 and first observed on Mandela’s birthday in 2009. It is a day intended to encourage everyone to emulate the late anti-apartheid campaigner and former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. This is done by encouraging social activism, volunteering and community service that tackles pressing social issues. 

Mandela became the first elected black president of South Africa after serving 27 years in prison for a tireless anti-apartheid campaign that included the sabotage of South African state infrastructure. After his release, Mandela helped to negotiate the end of apartheid and successfully ran in South Africa’s first multi-racial election. 

One of the day’s mottos is “Do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are”. This echoes a request by Mandela in 2009 for people to not celebrate his birthday but instead honour him by working in one’s community.

How to approach it

The story of Nelson Mandela is an inspiring one and is a great starting point for talking to students about this day. Briefly explore Mandela’s life and what he achieved such as through using Culture Street’s ‘Life of Nelson Mandela’ resource. Explore Mandela’s origins as the only black lawyer in his class, to his involvement with the African National Congress, to his imprisonment, presidency and beyond. 

Next, in the spirit of the day, focus on students taking inspiration from this story and applying it to their own lives. Ask them, if you could change one big problem like Mandela did, what would it be? What can we learn about Mandela’s life? How can we take inspiration from this and apply it in our own lives? You could mention it was Mandela’s wish for people to apply themselves into their communities. Ask: how can we help each other in our own communities? What can we help change together? You could give examples to help students here such as volunteering for food banks, litter picks, community campaigning or local politics. 

Conversation starter

Nelson Mandela helped to end apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was a racist system that separated white and black people where black people had less rights. At times, dismantling the apartheid system seemed impossible, but Mandela never gave up and eventually succeeded. What global challenges seem impossible to you right now? How can we work together to solve them?