Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2012 > On Nelson Mandela’s Birthday — July 18

Mainstream, VOL L, No 31, July 21, 2012

On Nelson Mandela’s Birthday — July 18

Friday 27 July 2012, by Suhas Borker



Nelson Mandela turns 94 on July 18. In November 2009, the UN General Assembly declared July 18 as the ‘Nelson Mandela International Day’ in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom and his dedication to service of humanity. Through this resolution, the world community recognised Nelson Mandela’s exemplary contribution in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children, as well as upliftment of the poor.

Come July 18, in New Delhi, 8000 kilometres away from Mandela’s home, 250 schoolchildren drawn from 20 schools from the National Capital Region of Delhi, will gather to celebrate the birthday of Madiba, as Mandela is affectionately called in South Africa. The celebrations of Mandela’s birthday in New Delhi this year, began last week, on July 10, with the Nelson Mandela lecture by Max Sisulu, the Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa. There could not have been a more appropriate speaker on the occasion than Max Sisulu. He is a child of the glorious anti-apartheid struggle who became a freedom fighter at the age of 17. He is the son of Walter Sisulu, the legendry leader of the South African freedom movement, who spent 18 years in the Robben Island prison with Mandela and whom Mandela called his mentor. Max is a regular visitor to Madiba’s home in Johannesburg.
When the South African people say “Happy Birthday Tata” (Father), “Happy Birthday Madiba”, they express their joy and pride that they still have Madiba with them. As a nation they feel privileged that they have benefited from his wise leadership for many years and that he continues to be a source of inspiration to them. As Mandela turns 94, his beloved ANC (African National Congress) has completed its century. It is an extraordinary story of achieve-ment and human sacrifice.

In his Mandela lecture, Max Sisulu said it was important to underscore that the ANC and Mandela always operated on the principle of collective leadership. He recalled Mandela’s innate humility and how he always managed to deflect the attention given to him. Mandela never referred to himself as the statesman, the Icon of Peace, the freedom fighter that we all know him to be. Within his “political home”—the ANC—Mandela always maintained that he was a part of the leadership collective and never sought to place himself above others. He was a product of the ANC; his views were honed within the organisation and the dreams and aspirations he articulated were those shared with his comrades-in-arms like Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Yusuf Dadoo, among others. When Mandela spoke, he spoke for them all.

Max Sisulu also highlighted how India was dear to Mandela’s heart. Upon release from prison, Mandela chose India as the first country to visit. It was appropriate in the ANC context also because in 1967, India became the first country to accord the ANC diplomatic status. During that visit to New Delhi in 1990, Mandela said of India: “The indentured labourers also served to establish an umbilical chord that ties together the peoples of our respective countries. As much as India is a particle of our country, so are we too a particle of India. History has condemned us to seek each other out, to deal with each other as members of the same family. It is that history which makes it possible for each one of us to claim the immortal Mahatma Gandhi as our national hero.” Mandela always calls Gandhi a “sacred warrior”.
Mandela guided South Africa through the first democratic election, secured peace and an overwhelming victory. He became the President of South Africa at the age of 75 in 1994 and retired in 1999. Mandela won international respect for his advocacy of national reconcilia-tion. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in 1995 helped heal the country. In his four-year presidency he laid the foundation of the ”rainbow nation”. The fundamental focus of his government was on the needs of the poorest of the country. Through the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), Mandela sought to tackle South Africa’s most severe social problems by linking growth, development, reconstruction, redistribution and reconciliation into a ‘unified programme’, investing in broad infrastructural projects of essential social services like health, water, education, electricity, telecommunications, transport and training. Land Reforms had to be an integral component of the 

Suhas Borker is the editor of CFTV News and Convenor Working Group on Alternative Strategies, New Delhi. He can be e-mailed at

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.