Former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa speaks to visitors on March 8, 1999 in his residence in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa speaks to visitors on March 8, 1999 in his residence in Houghton, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images.

Nelson Mandela International Day: A Global Tribute to the Legacy of a Hero

Each year, on July 18, the global community comes together to honor the remarkable life and lasting influence of Nelson Mandela through the observance of Nelson Mandela International Day.

July 18 marks the annual observance of Nelson Mandela International Day, commemorating the birth date of the esteemed Nelson Mandela and paying tribute to his remarkable life and enduring impact. This significant day holds immense importance as it serves as a worldwide rallying cry, inspiring individuals to actively participate in community service and advocate for social change.

Under the theme "The Legacy Lives on Through You: Climate, Food, and Solidarity," this year's celebration not only honors the indelible mark left by the late global icon but also emphasizes the urgent need to create a better world for all, aligning with Mandela's enduring vision.

People and organizations across the globe engage in diverse activities to promote Nelson Mandela Day, encompassing volunteer work, sports, art, education, music, and culture. Numerous events take place on or around July 18, aiming to honor Mandela's achievements and advance the various projects inspired by his selflessness and compassion.

Why did Mandela Day Begin?

Mandela Day was established by the United Nations in November 2009, the United Nations officially designated July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day, marking a significant milestone in honoring the renowned leader. This initiative was inspired by the powerful message delivered by Mandela in 2008, wherein he passionately urged the younger generation to embrace the responsibility of spearheading the fight against social injustices worldwide. He emphasized that the future lies in their hands, and they have the power to effect positive change in the world. This call to action resonated with various organizations and communities, leading them to commence celebrating Mandela Day on July 18, 2009, even before the United Nations officially recognized the day.

Mandela Day not only serves as a commemoration but also honors the impactful campaign known as "46664," derived from Mandela's prison number, it signifies the year 1964 when he was incarcerated on Robben Island, situated off Cape Town, South Africa. The prisoners held on Robben Island were identified not by their names but by their assigned numbers and year of imprisonment, hence 46664 symbolizes Nelson Mandela's specific number during his time in captivity. Originally launched to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, the campaign later expanded its scope to encompass a broader range of humanitarian endeavors. Mandela Day contributes to the ongoing efforts of the campaign and other charitable organizations associated with Nelson Mandela.

Why Do We Celebrate Mandela Day?

Nelson Mandela International Day serves as an annual celebration that illuminates the enduring legacy of a remarkable individual who shaped the course of the 20th century and influenced the trajectory of the 21st. At the heart of Mandela's work resided a profound conviction in the equality and inherent worth of every human being, coupled with an unwavering commitment to fostering dialogue and solidarity across all boundaries and divisions. As a statesman of great stature, he ardently championed equality and played a pivotal role in establishing peace in South Africa.

To commemorate the inaugural global observance of Mandela Day on July 18, 2009, coinciding with Mandela's 91st birthday, an array of educational initiatives, art exhibitions, fundraising campaigns, and volunteer activities were organized, culminating in a momentous concert at Radio City Music Hall. Over time, this day has evolved into a widespread movement that seeks to honor Mandela's lifelong dedication to effecting positive change on a global scale. It extends beyond mere commemoration of his life, urging individuals worldwide to actively engage in endeavors that foster constructive transformation and address pressing global challenges.

A prominent aspect of Nelson Mandela International Day revolves around the concept of dedicating "67 minutes" to service. Individuals are encouraged to allocate 67 minutes of their time—symbolizing each year of Mandela's impactful public service—to contribute to humanitarian causes and make a tangible difference within their communities. The underlying idea is that even small acts of solidarity and service, when united under a common purpose, possess the power to yield substantial and meaningful outcomes.

What is the theme for Nelson Mandela International Day 2023?

The chosen theme for Nelson Mandela International Day 2023 is "Climate Food and Solidarity." As the late Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 105th birthday on July 18, 2023, the Nelson Mandela Foundation emphasizes the pressing need to address climate change, persistent poverty, and inequality in our world today.

In an effort to combat the intersection of climate change and food insecurity, the Nelson Mandela Foundation calls upon the global community to unite on Nelson Mandela Day 2023. They urge individuals to take decisive action by planting trees and establishing community and home food gardens. This collective effort is intended to span across the globe, starting from New Zealand in the east and extending to the farthest reaches of the west.

To kickstart the implementation of this year's theme, the Nelson Mandela Foundation hosted a briefing for international partners on behalf of Nelson Mandela International Day. The purpose of the briefing was to discuss ongoing efforts and identify areas where further work is required to address climate change and food insecurity. The Foundation acknowledges the growing recognition of the interconnectedness between poverty, inequality, and food security, underscoring the significance of concerted action in these areas.

Who Was Mandela?

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, a prominent South African anti-apartheid activist, holds a significant place in history as the first democratically elected president of the Republic of South Africa, serving from 1994 to 1999.

Mandela's presidency marked a transformative era in South Africa, as he became the nation's first Black head of state through a fully representative democratic election. His government was dedicated to dismantling the oppressive system of apartheid and fostering racial reconciliation.

Initially an advocate of African nationalism and socialism, Mandela assumed the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997, solidifying his role as a key leader in the fight against apartheid.

While initially embracing non-violent means of protest, Mandela co-founded the militant organization uMkhonto we Sizwe in 1961, in collaboration with the South African Communist Party (SACP). This group engaged in acts of sabotage against the government. In 1962, Mandela was arrested and subsequently imprisoned, enduring a lengthy sentence following the Rivonia Trial where he was found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the state.

For 27 years, Mandela served time in various prisons, including Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison, and Victor Verster Prison. Although a controversial figure during certain periods of his life, he gained global recognition and acclaim for his unwavering activism, emerging as an icon of democracy and social justice. His tireless efforts earned him over 250 honors, including the esteemed Nobel Peace Prize.

On December 5, 2013, Mandela passed away from natural causes, having narrowly escaped a death sentence in the 1960s. His legacy endures as a testament to his extraordinary contributions and unwavering commitment to equality, inspiring generations across the world.