International Nelson Mandela Day

International Nelson Mandela Day

Darrel Moellendorf: International Nelson Mandela Day

Many of you are probably not aware that July 18, 2010 is the first annual International Nelson Mandela Day. By UN Resolution it is to be celebrated every year on Mandela’s birthday in recognition of his contribution to the culture of peace and freedom.

I would like to honor the day by recounting a story.

I had the good fortune of being in the presence of the then-President of the Republic of South Africa for a few minutes one day in July of 1996. It was the week before exams at the University of the Witwatersrand where I was teaching, a cool and crisp highveld winter day. The campus was quiet as students prepared for exams. As I approached the library I noticed a small group of students milling about outside. This group of a dozen or so was more students than I had seen together on campus for a couple of days, so I enquired. One student in the group told me that they were waiting for the President to arrive. Since there had been no announcement of such a visit, I was surprised and decided to wait and see.

After a short while Nelson Mandela, accompanied only by two sunglass-attired body guards, walked up. There were no media to be seen. He briefly exhorted the students to study hard for their exams as the new South Africa was counting on their contribution. At the end we spontaneously formed a line, walked past him, and shook his hand. Within ten minutes it was over. He left as quietly as he arrived.

I was impressed by the complete lack of pretense and the decision not to use the meeting as a publicity event. The only conceivable reason for him to do it was because he judged it important. That was a day I’ll never forget.

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

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