Nelson Mandela was not only the first democratically elected South African president, he was a much needed voice that promoted peace, equality, and justice all around the world.

The former president used his voice to call on world leaders to end the systemic causes of poverty, and often lent his name to global fundraising initiatives.

“Poverty is not natural,” Mandela said in an impassioned speech in 2005. “It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” 

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity,” he continued. “It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.” 

On his birthday, July 18, the world commemorates Mandela Day, a day dedicated to bringing communities together and doing what you can to protect and uplift the most vulnerable. Mandela Day was declared an international day of recognition by the United Nations in 2009, four years before the late president’s passing. To further this recognition of his legacy, the month of July is also unofficially acknowledged as “Mandela Month” in South Africa. 

On Mandela Day itself, citizens are encouraged to spend 67 minutes of their time in service to others in need. These 67 minutes are in appreciation of the 67 years that Nelson Mandela spent fighting for justice, equality, and human rights for all. This encompasses the years he worked as a human rights lawyer, the years he spent in prison, the years of his presidency, and the years after that when he remained an icon and example for international human rights.  

Mandela’s call to action is as important today as it was then. South Africa is still grappling with deep-rooted inequalities, rising hunger, and increasing poverty rates which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, corruption, and inflation

These circumstances have left a large number of people in need of social security and support.

While under COVID-19 lockdown in 2021, citizens could not show up for Mandela Day in the usual manner — for example renovating community properties like schools and clinics, reading to children, running soup kitchens, spending time with the elderly, and other physical ways of showing up — however, with restrictions entirely eased up, this year South Africa can show up in a manner that suits everyone’s needs.

The restrictions on COVID-19 have been lifted, but the Department of Health still recommends that people — especially those living with comorbidities, persons staying with people who have chronic diseases, and health workers — uphold the regulations as per their guidelines. 

Here are seven ways you can show up for your community to mark Mandela Day this year.

1.  Support The Nelson Mandela Foundation's Campaign 

The Nelson Mandela Foundation decides each year what the theme of Mandela Day should be, and the theme for 2022 is centred around food and nutrition. It is titled: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are," and the foundation launched a month-long campaign heralding this message

While the foundation has links to several ways you can show up this Mandela Day and support this year's theme, you're also encouraged to work the theme into your existing Mandela Day plans by donating to and supporting community food distributions, growing a vegetable garden in your community or backyard, or even by purchasing foods from local farmers and vendors.

For more information about the campaign and how you can get involved, visit the website here.

2. Donate clothes, food, and other essential items

A group of business school colleagues came together to launch the Sekela Foundation in the height of the pandemic in June 2020. 

“With the global pandemic and the various economic challenges that South Africa is facing, we believe that there are multiple needs that can be addressed in different communities. We would like to use our skills and talents as a collective, to do what we can and assist where we can,” said the foundation, in a statement shared with Global Citizen. 

For Mandela Day, The Sekela Foundation is working to support 250 families in Alexandra township, Johannesburg with food parcels. They are seeking financial donations as one parcel costs R500 (just under $30). Find out more about the Sekela Foundation's work, its Mandela Day appeal, and how you can get involved here

You can also donate items such as clothes, toiletries, and blankets to an organisation, orphanage, or school near you or close to your heart. 

3. Sign Up for a Community Clean Up

Clean up operations get underway at a shopping centre in Vosloorus, near Johannesburg, July 15, 2021.
Clean up operations get underway at a shopping centre in Vosloorus, near Johannesburg, July 15, 2021.
Image: Themba Hadebe/AP

Communities in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) have begun a process of repairing the damage caused by the raging floods the province experienced in April. Government has also offered the residents some relief by building 108 temporary houses for the victims of the floods. However, there are still thousands who are still trying to find shelter in tents and halls. 

Furthermore, littering and waste disposal is a major problem for many communities across South Africa as some municipalities have witnessed problems with waste collection problems and general service delivery problems. 

You can play your part this Mandela Day by committing 67 minutes to help rebuild communities if you are in KZN, or by picking up waste and recycling if you are anywhere else in the country. 

4. Buy a Bed for Someone in Need

You can make sure that someone facing homelessness in the city of Cape Town, where homelessness is a growing social issue, has a place to sleep at night. 

The Haven Night Shelter, who currently have 15 night shelters in the Cape Town region, have a facility in which you can book a night's stay at one of their shelters for someone in need. All you have to do is donate from as little as R15 to R750 to the shelter to secure a bed for someone in need of shelter.

Visit their website here for everything you need to know about the initiative and how to donate. 

5. Donate Blood at Your Nearest SANBS

The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) aims to collect 3,000 units of blood per day to ensure a safe and sufficient supply in the health care system.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, blood donations from young people have dropped 20%, and as they form the largest part of South Africa’s population, their donations are urgently needed this Mandela Day, and throughout the year. 

Citizens can still do their part by donating blood at their nearest banks. Find out where to donate blood and how your blood can make a difference on their website here

6. Help Secure a Bright Future for Education in South Africa by Supporting Nal’ibali

There are many barriers in South Africa for children to receive a good education. Whether it be child-headed households, poor infrastructure, and, as the pandemic proved to us, the digital divide.

Nal’ibali (which translates to “here’s a story” from isiXhosa) works to cultivate a love of literature in South Africa’s children. It’s a national reading for enjoyment campaign that helps to boost an excitement for literature, and influences children to read, write, and share stories in their home languages. 

You can support them on Mandela Day or year-round by donating to the campaign, and if you don’t have the funds, don’t worry, there are many other cost-free ways to support the campaign that you can read more about on their website here

7. Take the Global Citizen Mandela Day Champion Challenge

Make your impact go further than 67 minutes or just one day by taking the Mandela Day Champion Challenge on the Global Citizen app. For seven days, the challenge will set small tasks for you to complete to help uplift your community, improve the environment, and help to educate you about the most pressing challenges facing the African continent. 

All you have to do is download the Global Citizen app on your phone, sign up to be a Global Citizen if you haven't already, and dive right into the 7-day challenge here

Global Citizen Life

Demand Equity

7 Ways You Can Show Up on Mandela Day

By Khanyi Mlaba  and  Tshiamo Mobe