MUBANGA LUMPA: Mandela Day - a moment to reflect on humanity's crises


During one of my recent visits in South Africa, I was privileged to have toured the Robben Island World Heritage Site and museum, one of the significant historical sites in the struggle against racial oppression and injustice in South Africa. It was also here that I saw for myself the infamous and notorious prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, along with over 3,000 political prisoners for their fight against the Apartheid government.

After his release from prison on 11 February 1990, Mandela made his first visit outside of South Africa to Zambia’s capital city, Lusaka. During this historic visit, leaders from within the Southern African region and other prominent world leaders, such as the Palestine Liberation leader, Yasser Arafat, were on hand to welcome the former political prisoner and an icon of the liberation struggle. In Lusaka, crowds rarely seen lined the stretch from the country’s international airport to get a glimpse of Mandela, who was widely admired throughout the African continent as a symbol of the struggle against racial oppression. It was also in Lusaka, which had served for some years as the headquarters of the banned African National Congress (ANC), that Mandela met leaders of the ANC to discuss a strategy for negotiations with the Apartheid government.

Today, that visit by Mandela to Zambia about 30 years ago remains a significant moment in the hearts and minds of many people. Mandela’s legacy is also firmly imprinted in the pages of Zambia’s political history for his unwavering role and devotion to the service of humanity as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa. Today, the legacy of Mandela as a global leader and statesman continues to have an impact on humanity, not only in South Africa but the world over.

Therefore, 18 July each year is celebrated as Nelson Mandela International Day across many countries of the world. The day was launched in recognition of Mandela’s birthday. The decision was made through a unanimous choice by the United Nations General Assembly in 2009. The resolution acknowledges Mandela’s contribution to the struggle for democracy globally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.

The day is further inspired by Mandela’s values and dedication to the service of humanity in conflict resolution, race relations, promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, the fight against poverty and the promotion of social justice in society.

This year, the theme for the Nelson Mandela International Day was “one hand can feed another”. This theme is even timelier now, as it echoes the statement made by Mandela in London in 2005: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest”. And evidently so. Today as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the world, its effects have made it even more difficult to meet the demands of social justice, especially among the poor in many developing countries.

COVID-19 has further resulted in devastating loss of life, exposed the fragility of many country’s health systems and aggravated food insecurity, loss of income and further increased the risks for many communities to other social ills. In Africa, millions of livelihoods have been disrupted and many more people have been thrown on the fringes of poverty, hunger, disease, crime, poverty and inequality. There are now many more people today that have become increasingly dependent on others to survive due to the devastating effects of the pandemic than ever before. According to a World Bank (2021) report, the results of COVID-19 has pushed up to 40 million people into extreme poverty. The World Bank further warned of reversing progress made in fighting poverty, at least in the past five years.

Therefore, this year’s Nelson Mandela International Day is an opportunity to reflect on the crisis faced by humanity, particularly in many poor communities. It is also a call to action for the people of Africa and the world over to ignite the spirit of ubuntu in order to tackle the ills of inequality, hunger and poverty that threatens millions of people around the world by working together. The Nelson Mandela International Day should further continue to serve as a call for both the present and future generations to take on the responsibility of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices.

This day should be a celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy, and also a global movement to honour Madiba’s life of service to humanity and to change the world for the better.

Mubanga Lumpa is a Zambia-based political analyst. You can follow him on Twitter on @mubangalumpa.