Celebrating International Nelson Mandela Day in His Mother Country

Nelson Mandela left an indelible mark on South Africa and the world at large
Nelson Mandela left an indelible mark on South Africa and the world at large | © lasanta.com.ec / Flickr

The United Nations declared July 18 Nelson Mandela International Day to commemorate the anniversary of the former president and freedom fighter’s birthday. Spread across South Africa, there are more than 27 spots of historic significance where locals and foreigners can contribute and learn about one of the country’s most significant leaders.

Each year, on July 18, South Africans offer up their time to help the less fortunate (from visiting animal shelters to donating goods to the homeless) and honor the great leader. Here are a few ways to celebrate this important day.

Offer 67 Minutes of Your Time (a Minute for Each Year Mandela Contributed to Public Service)

Whether visiting an animal shelter or an orphanage, or helping clean streets in a local community, every bit helps. Thousands of businesses and individuals are running donation drives to assist different organisations. A simple Google search can offer ideas on how to help; or, better yet, start a donation drive for a charity, organization, or an individual. To make it as easy as possible, Better SA offers a hop-on, hop-off service, often referred to as the Uber of Volunteering. Just sign up, show up, and spend two hours at a charity or venue.

Book a Tour of Robben Island

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated a few kilometers west of Cape Town’s coast, is the former prison site where Mandela spent 18 of his 27-year imprisonment. Today, visitors to the site get a glimpse into Mandela’s time in the prison while learning about the country’s complex-political history. A ferry trip to the island costs R340 (around €20; $26) and can be booked via WebTickets.

Robbin Island

Visit Constitution Hill and the Museum

Constitution Hill is home to the South African Constitutional Court and the Old Fort Prison that held many political prisoners. Mandela was held here during the 1965 Rivonia Treason Trial, which eventually led to his imprisonment. The court is a major symbol of hope and democracy and is juxtaposed against the prison and its surrounds, which stresses the hardships of apartheid. A full tour is recommended in order to experience the whole site

Courtesy of Constitution Hill

Read A Long Walk to Freedom

The bestselling autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, archives Mandela’s life, and it was adapted into a film of the same name in 2013. The book records Mandela’s most important years: from growing up in a poverty-stricken community and his education, his 27 years in prison, and his struggle to freedom.

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Take Part in a Motorcycle Rally

Numerous motorcycle rallies are being held all over the country in celebration of Mandela while raising funds for non-profits at the same time.

The Harley Davidson Riders Mandela Charity Run, from Pretoria to Witbank, takes place on July 22 and raises funds to assist Malehlogonolo Simulation Centre, a children’s home on the outskirts of Witbank. Follow #Harleys4Mandela to stay up-to-date and for the latest info.

Visit the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in KwaZulu Natal

In 1962, Nelson Mandela was captured by police and taken into custody. As this was such an important happening in the country’s history, the site is now recognizable by a large sculpture of the icon. There’s no entrance fee, and the site is open every day.

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Visit the Mandela House in Soweto

Mandela’s former home at 8115 Vilakazi Street in Soweto is open to the public. Remarkably, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu also called this street home; it is also the only street in the world where two Nobel-Prize winners have lived. A tour of Soweto will ultimately lead to Vilakazi Street, and visitors can take a peek inside Mandela’s life by visiting the Mandela House Museum. Entrance is R60 (around £3.50; $4.60) per person.

Mandela museum soweto

Be Inspired at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory is a non-profit organization Mandela founded in 1999. The Centre archives, collects, and displays exciting exhibitions that include books gifted to Mandela (inscribed by authors such as Nadine Gordimer, David Rockefeller, and many more), photography, videos, and news clips—all documenting his life.

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