Nelson Mandela has many accolades. He’s an iconic figure that triumphed over South Africa’s apartheid regime. He was a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, and an international peacemaker. And he was the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa (no biggie). So you see why the United Nations General Assembly would want to celebrate his life. Commemorated on July 18 — Nelson Mandela’s birthday — Nelson Mandela International Day celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world and the ability to make an impact. So, in honor of his 67 years of public service, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the U.N. ask that you spend 67 minutes of your time helping others.
History of Nelson Mandela International Day
Nelson Mandela International Day, also known as Mandela Day, is an international observance in honor of the revolutionary Nelson Mandela, celebrated annually on his birthday, on July 18. The day was officially set by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first observance of Mandela Day held on July 18, 2010. Nelson Mandela International Day shines a light every year on the legacy of a man whose monumental achievements changed the 20th century and shaped the 21st. His values and determination — a deep commitment to human rights, freedom, and justice — are reflected on, and are a source of inspiration for others. Mandela advocated for the rightful dignity and equality of every living person, and encouraged engagement and solidarity across all borders. His relentless pursuit for equality was paralleled with his status as the founding father of peace in South Africa. Nelson Mandela remains a symbol of power by resisting oppression. In times of turbulence, Mandela’s legacy teaches everyone to choose dignity over humiliation, speak up during injustice, and forgive rather than hate. He once said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” In 2014, the Nelson Mandela Prize was established by the UN General Assembly — an award recognizing the achievements of those who went far and beyond to serve humanity.
Nelson Mandela International Day timeline
Nelson Mandela is born in a village called Mvezo in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Mandela is jailed for leading the liberation movement against apartheid — he is referred to by his inmate number, 46664.
Mandela leaves prison after 27 years.
Mandela is elected President of South Africa and serves in office until 1999.
The first Nelson Mandela International Day is held in New York.
Nelson Mandela International Day FAQs
Why do we celebrate Nelson Mandela Day?
“We celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day every year to shine light on the legacy of a man who changed the 20th century and helped shape the 21st. This is a moment for all to renew with the values that inspired Nelson Mandela,” according to UNESCO.
How do we celebrate Nelson Mandela Day?
“USA Today” suggests the following great ways to celebrate Nelson Mandela Day:“1) Make a new friend.2) Read to someone.3) Help someone get a job.4) Clean up your community.5) Host a back-to-school drive.6) Offer to tutor someone.7) Find out what matters in your neighborhood.8) Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank.”
Is Mandela Day a public holiday?
No, in South Africa Nelson Mandela Day is not a public holiday and businesses follow regular opening hours.
How to Observe Nelson Mandela International Day
Use special hashtags
Currently, there are two major hashtags associated with Nelson Mandela International Day. Show your support for the noble causes that gain attention on this day by using the hashtags #MandelaDay and #ActionAgainstPoverty.
Nelson Mandela strongly advocated for helping others. Get out in your community and lend a hand by devoting some time to volunteering. You can volunteer for as little or as long as you want, and, afterward, you're sure to feel good about the positive impact you have made.
Support a charity
There are a number of charities that contribute to the initiatives that were so close to Nelson Mandela's heart. Consider finding a charity that partakes in a mission that you find important and contribute to the cause.
5 Things You Should Know About Nelson Mandela
Mandela was one of South Africa's first black lawyers.
Yet another first
Mandela was also South Africa's first black president.
A Nobel Prize
Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his influential work in ending apartheid.
Mandela's first name is actually Rolihlahla, but he was nicknamed Nelson by one of his school teachers.
A loving nickname
Many South Africans referred to Mandela as "Madiba" — which is a title of respect.
Why Nelson Mandela International Day is Important
He showed the way for all of us
Revolutionary. Philanthropist. President. Mandela lived a breathtaking life — showing impossible courage against all odds. He spent 27 years in prison. He rose to become South Africa's first black head of state — bringing down apartheid in the process. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. This holiday is a time to reflect upon all that one man might accomplish.
Mandela provided unlimited help for others
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, started in 1999, focused on things like rural development and school construction — while launching a prolonged and sustained attack on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
He never stopped fighting for South Africa
South Africa suffers from high poverty — triggering issues with malnutrition, poor education, and unemployment. On Nelson Mandela International Day, many activists shine a light on the needs of the struggling country — hoping to provide a brighter future.
Nelson Mandela International Day dates