Relieved South Africans cast off a veil of deep national anxiety about former President Nelson Mandela today, awakening to the good news of an improvement in his medical condition and getting up to celebrate the great leader’s 95th birthday in style.
Across the country – from Mr Mandela’s birthplace in Mvezo in rural Eastern Cape, to Pretoria, where he remains in hospital, to Cape Town, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped to spruce up a neighbourhood school – millions of South Africans from all walks of life celebrated International Mandela Day by performing at least 67 minutes of service for others.
The 67 minutes of service is symbolic of Mr Mandela’s 67-years of public service to his people.
In Mvezo, Mr Mandela’s grandson, Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, awoke early to hand out food parcels and blankets to members of the community before heading down the road to celebrate the erection of the extraordinary new Mandela School of Science and Technology, a R100m state-of-the-art facility sponsored by German technology company, Siemens.
“My grandfather has not lost his fighting spirit. I always told him: ‘You need to get to 100.’ And he would say, ‘just a day at a time’,” Nkosi Zwelivelile said.
In Cape Town, the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation cemented its relationship with its closest neighbouring school, the Marconi Beam Public Primary School, with its entire staff – led by Archbishop Tutu and his daughter Reverend Mpho Tutu, the Foundation chief executive – spending the day painting, cleaning and tidying.
“Charity begins in our hearts, in our homes, in our communities. We have been working with Marconi Beam Public Primary School for a little while now, contributing what we can to developing stronger and better equipped young people,” Reverend Tutu said.
She congratulated school principal Ms Elizabeth Plaatjies-Resha for the energy she was bringing to the community, and she thanked the event sponsors Makro, Old Mutual and the Mediterranean Shipping Company.
Chatting to media after trying out his hand with a paint roller, Archbishop Tutu spoke of Mr Mandela’s extraordinary ability to unite people – even from his hospital bed. Mr Mandela’s hospitalisation, accompanied by public schisms among his family members, contained important lessons for all about the responsibilities of human beings to safeguard the dignity of the elderly and infirm, and to adequately prepare for their own and their loved ones inevitable onward journeys.
Archbishop Tutu suggested that if there was one practical thing South Africans could do to honour Mr Mandela – not just today, but every day – it would be to commit themselves to stop littering, to respect our environment as much as we respect Mr Mandela.