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24 July 2012

Nelson Mandela International Day: A celebration of hope

On 18 July the UN joined the Nelson Mandela Foundationin celebrating the Nelson Mandela International Day. The Day, which this year coincided with Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, was observed in many countries around the world, including Mandela’s own homeland, South Africa. It has been made into a yearly event following the success of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations in London in 2008. The theme this year was “Take Action! Inspire Change” – a theme chosen to commemorate Mandela’s 67 years of contributions to democracy, racial justice and reconciliation and to invite all people around the world to spend 67 minutes of their time helping others.

United Nations Information Centres around the world organized outreach activities and events, and the General Assembly in New York held an informal meeting on “Building a Caring World – Nelson Mandela’s Vision.” The meeting included remarks, videos and a performance by two South African graduate students of the University of Cape Town Opera School. For their 67 minutes of public service, staff at the UN Headquarters in New York volunteered at the Bowery Mission, preparing and serving food to homeless men and women.

In South Africa, 12 million school children began their day with a special birthday song for the country’s former president. In France, the Tour de France cyclists were led out of Pau by a birthday banner for Mandela in a televised event. On the civil society side, Habitat for Humanity will be building 67 new houses in South Africa.

In anticipation of the day, former US President Bill Clinton visited Nelson Mandela’s childhood home, hailing his close ties with the African icon. Clinton also attended the opening of a library at a primary school with Mandela’s wife and daughter. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and the First Lady issued a statement in Nelson Mandela’s honour: “On behalf of the people of the United States, we would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 94th birthday and the fourth annual Nelson Mandela International Day. Mandela’s extraordinary life and steadfast commitment to the principles of democracy and reconciliation continues to be a beacon for people of all backgrounds who strive for dignity, justice, and freedom.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message, urged all around the world to perform 67 minutes of public service as a tribute to Mandela’s tireless struggle for freedom and justice.

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