by Nosimilo Ramela

Families across South Africa are gearing up to embrace the spirit of Mandela Day on 18 July and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

South Africans will celebrate Mandela Day by giving back and helping others. (Image: Nelson Mandela Institute)

Primary school pupil Thomas Kedge, from Hyde Park in northern Johannesburg, says he’s very excited about it. He has collected a pile of toys and books to donate to underprivileged children in Orange Farm, one of the largest informal settlements in the country, situated 45km south of the city centre.

“I’ve asked all my friends and cousins to give us toys and books they don’t use anymore. My parents and I will be going to Orange Farm, where we will be giving them out to the children there on Mandela Day. I will play cricket and soccer with the young children like myself, and read them some of my favourite story books.”

The Kedge family plans to spend the entire day in Orange Farm. Thomas’s mother, Katherine, has been tasked with making hot dogs and baking biscuits to share with the community.

“We’ve been collecting blankets, toys and books over the last two months because we really want to do something as a family to honour Mandela’s special day,” she says. “It’s also a way to teach our children about giving back and interacting with South Africans from different communities who may not be as fortunate as they are.”

Sixty-seven minutes for humanity

The 18th July is the birthday of former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who is turning 92 this year.

It’s also a date that’s now recognised in South Africa and around the world, following the UN’s 2009 decision to declare it “Nelson Mandela International Day”.

This declaration encourages everyone to take 67 minutes to help change the world around them, using whatever abilities they have. The timeframe represents the number of years that Mandela spent fighting for the rights of humanity.

Nthabiseng Sithole and her family, from Midrand in Johannesburg, will spend their 67 minutes helping refurbish an orphanage in Tembisa township, east of the city.

“I wish we could do so much more, but with the little that we have we will be changing the lives of the people around us,” she says. “We will be taking our paintbrushes, brooms and mops and go there to help the orphanage and the young people who live in the township. We will also be donating our old book shelves, clothes, bed linen and paintings for the kids’ rooms.”

Art from the heart

Nthabiseng says her three children have been hard at work painting pictures to take to the orphanage.

Thabiso, one of her sons, says: “I feel bad that these children don’t have parents and their own homes, and own room like me. I am drawing them nice pictures that will make them smile and feel special and loved. Mandela has always said things that make people feel strong and give them hope, so I am writing special messages on the paintings to give the children hope too.”

Thabiso’s little sister, Lerato, says she will be donating her dolls and teddy bears to the little girls at the orphanage. “I still love some of my dolls – they make me happy and comfort me when I’m sad or scared. But I am going to give some of them to the other children so they too can have something to make them feel safe. I want to give up something close to me and make someone happy on Mandela Day because Mandela has spent his life living for us and we are happy today.”

Caring for the carers

Sikhumbuzo Ngwenya, from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, says he will be going with a group of close friends to a hospice in Umlazi, in the east of the province, to relieve the workers there for a day.

“We admire the people who spend their lives caring for the terminally ill in their last days. That is a true sacrifice – the true spirit of Mandela Day. We are going there to take over their duties for the day, so they can just relax and enjoy a braai and some good music.”

Ngwenya says his group will take their own braai stands and music systems to Umlazi to throw a small party for the caregivers and the patients. “Not only do we want to give the caregivers a day off, we want the patients to have a fun day too, so they can laugh and relax, and just forget about their pain and solitude for a little while,” he says.

The South African government has also endorsed Mandela Day and urged all citizens to make a difference on that date: “We once again call on all sectors of our society to dedicate 67 minutes of their time to help the needy, poor and vulnerable members of our communities,” says President Jacob Zuma.