This year’s Mandela Day was unlike any other for South Africans as it fell just after the country was rocked by riots and looting in some regions.
July is recognized as Mandela month in South Africa, with the former president’s birthday on the 18th serving as an international day of recognition for the icon.
On Mandela Day, citizens are encouraged to spend at least 67 minutes of their time in service to other people or communities in need as a way to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s legacy. The 67 minutes represent the years that Nelson Mandela spent in service to others, standing for justice and equality as a lawyer, president and citizen in South Africa.
This year Mandela Day was celebrated just days after parts of South Africa experienced civil unrest, looting, and riots. These riots were ignited on July 8, following the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma, and only calmed down around July 16. They may have started as a political demonstration, but as time went on, it became evident that they were fueled by the country’s deep-rooted inequalities and increasing rates of poverty.
In the chaos, 212 people lost their lives, many businesses were destroyed and thousands of establishments were looted.
Mandela Day seemed to come at just the right time as people used the day to clean up, rebuild and show solidarity with others following the unrest, using more than just their 67 minutes to serve communities and people in need.
President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged this effort in his latest weekly newsletter, released every Monday, saying: “We observed Nelson Mandela Day not as a country on its knees, but as a people who collectively embody the spirit of Nelson Mandela, perhaps as never before.”
“This Nelson Mandela Day, the South African people were the heroes Madiba once spoke of,” he added.
While the president has not announced any measures to deal with the inequality and increasing poverty rates that may have fueled the riots, South African citizens took it upon themselves to help those in need and help ease the country’s tensions.
These are some of the incredible acts of kindness and solidarity that we were inspired by:
1. Rescuing a baby from a burning building
As riots went on in Durban’s inner city on July 14, a mother was left with no other choice but to throw her baby from a burning building in the hopes that citizens would be there to catch her. The building was allegedly set alight by people who were rioting and the mother, Naledi, found herself with no other exit but a ledge a few stories above the ground.
Dozens of people stopped in their tracks and stood beneath the ledge, ready to catch the child.
“I looked down and I thought, no, I can do this,” she told BBC journalist Nomsa Maseko. “I was really scared but there were people down on the street… I was trusting anyone to take my baby away from me because the place was burning and she was crying… After they caught her I was relieved, I was really relieved.”
Both Naledi and her baby were unharmed.
2. Hundreds of roti made for hospital patients and children in need
Another incredible act of kindness that took place before Mandela Day came after KwaZulu Natal province started to run out of bread as a result of riots in the region.
The Mandela Youth Centre, based in Chatsworth township within the province, received word that one of the hospitals that they support as well as a children’s home in the area, had both run out of bread to feed residents.
Thinking on their feet, the centre pulled together volunteers and made over 500 rotis, Indian flatbreads that typically require far less ingredients than bread, for those in need.
“What an awesome, fun day and learning experience it was for all of us as we rolled out and toasted over 500 rotis on hot 'thavas,’” the organisation said in a Facebook post. “We hope to do this daily with the guarantee of more rotis till the bread delivery situation stabilizes."
The centre also mobilised a clean up initiative on Mandela Day to restore the community after riots.
3. This airline scheduled flights to deliver food to KwaZulu Natal after riots
In the aftermath of the riots and looting in KwaZulu Natal, the province was facing food shortages as looters stole and destroyed food, and set trucks carrying essential goods on fire.
In response, FlySafair, a low-cost South African airline, scheduled flights to the region specifically for the purpose of delivering food.
KZN RELIEF: We've made a limited amount of free checked luggage available to those flying to KZN to take food etc. Allocation is limited by weight restrictions and is awarded first-come-first-serve. Info here: https://t.co/IxgibkbtAX#airlinesforgoodhttps://t.co/QCH6MWZoxe— FlySafair (@FlySafair) July 16, 2021
“At first it was just a question of ‘how do we get food to our own staff’,” CEO Elmar Conradie explained in a radio interview with Cape Talk, “then [came] more and more calls from companies about helping.”
As main roads were blocked by rioters, meaning food trucks could not deliver, the airline worked with companies and interested citizens to deliver food to the region. Those wanting to help, can book flights with the airline and be allocated with extra baggage allowance so that they can transport food to KwaZulu Natal.
4. Citizens made 67,000 litres of soup for the hungry
Charity organisation, Chefs with Compassion, organised a nationwide drive to cook soup for 268,000 people on Mandela Day.
Their goal, which they achieved on the day, was to cook 67,000 litres of soup for vulnerable communities across the country. The soup was made by more than 270 people in home kitchens, culinary schools and even restaurants, with those participating amplifying the message using the hashtag #67000litres.
“67,000 litres for Mandela Day is a nationwide movement to cook soup for Mandela Day in the spirit of Madiba where we are called to collective action where we make small actions that bring about big change,” Chefs with Compassions’ Vanessa Naude told SABC.
The drive aimed to also raise awareness that millions of tons of food goes to waste everyday despite millions of people going to bed hungry. With the help of cooks across the country, they managed to make 70,897 litres of soup, surpassing their goal by almost 4,000 litres.
After reaching and surpassing their goal, the organisation made a short statement on Facebook saying: “We are humbled and in awe of the impact that achieving #67000litres of soup will have - and of the collective action that made this possible.”
“For us, every day is Mandela Day,” the post continued, “and we invite every participant in this year's challenge, once a week, to do what you did today for those who, through no fault of their own, face the daily desperation of hunger.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.