Today, is Mandela Day which was launched in recognition of Nelson Mandela’s birthday on the 18 July, 2009 via unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly. The motivation behind Mandela Day is simple – each of us has the ability and the responsibility to make the world a better place. If each one of us heeded the call to reach out to each other every day, we would be living Nelson Mandela’s legacy and helping to build a better world.
Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to the struggle for human rights and social justice. This simple act of service to mankind is what made Nelson Mandela’s contribution to our world very special. For me personally it was such an honour to have personally benefited from Nelson Mandela’s leadership.
In 1988, artists and musicians from all over the world came together to honour and celebrate Nelson Mandela’s Birthday at the Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley stadium in London. At the same time life for us in South Africa was probably at its worst with the ‘apartheid government’, led by PW Botha unleashing some of the most horrific terror on ‘black’ people. South Africa seemed to be going up in flames and there was no hint of Nelson Mandela ever being released from prison.
During this period of our history, any image of Nelson Mandela was banned so we knew that the concert would never be broadcast in South Africa. At the time that the concert was taking place, a good friend of mine James was visiting his family in the UK and agreed to bring back recordings of the Nelson Mandela Birthday Tribute concert for me. We all eagerly awaited James return and when he did return we were filled with excitement and nervousness because we knew that anyone found in possession of any material relating to Nelson Mandela would be arrested. It suddenly dawned on me what a massive risk I had put James through by innocently asking him to bring back VHS recordings of a concert that paid tribute to Nelson Mandela. All sorts of questions and scenarios went through my mind, such as what if James gets arrested at the airport? What seemed like a simple request to record the concert was now starting to look like a full blown case of treason.
I knew that what seemed like an innocent concert calling for Nelson Mandela’s release was deemed to be treason in South Africa and anyone found in possession of any materials connected to Nelson Mandela would certainly be arrested and jailed under the‘State of Emergency’ regulations. I had prepared myself for the worst but to my relief James made it safely through customs at Jan Smuts airport in Johannesburg. I finally got my hands on those prized VHS recordings of the concert. I was eternally grateful to James.
In order not to arouse any suspicion we arranged for just a few close trusted ‘comrades’ to view the concert. Unfortunately, by this point the word about the VHS tapes had spread and we ended up with between 80 and 100 people showing up on the day of the viewing. We managed to squeeze everyone into a room like ‘sardines in a can’ and began to watch the concert. A few minutes into the concert just as ‘Sting’ started to sing ‘Set them free’, we heard a loud commotion at the front door and several policemen surrounded the house. Needless to say, we were all arrested that night. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to copy the tapes so after our release from prison, we did eventually get to watch the entire concert – uninterrupted.
We remain eternally grateful to all those artists, musicians and ordinary people all over the world who supported our struggle for freedom. Through a combination of Nelson Mandela’s determination, sustained pressure and worldwide support for freedom in South Africa, the seeds of ‘Mandela Day’ were sown. I suppose in many ways the ‘Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute’ concert became the pinnacle of our struggle and it was this event that filled us with hope that freedom and democracy were just on the horizon. The brilliant song of hope by ‘Simple Minds‘ aptly titled ‘Mandela Day’ really set the tone for the dream that soon Nelson Mandela would be freed.
Our hopes and dreams became a reality on the 11th February 1990, when Nelson Mandela and the rest of South Africa were finally freed after 27 years in prison.
As we reflect on Nelson Mandela’s legacy, let us ‘Give Thanks’ for his life, his leadership and his devotion to humanity. We salute and thank him for his sacrifices for our freedom and our future. Nelson Mandela saw himself first and foremost as a servant of the people to whom he owed a duty and whom he led by example. Positive change for the better was the gift left to all of us by Nelson Mandela – it’s a living legacy and now it’s our turn.
Let us all emulate the servant leader we loved by all becoming servant leaders ourselves.
Here is the amazing Simple Minds song ‘Mandela Day’
May God Bless you all.