Mandela Day: recognising the power of the individual to change the world

As the world took time out on Friday, 18 July to honour Nelson Mandela’s legacy of service on Mandela Day, Brand South Africa focuses on the power of the individual to effect change, and build a cooperative, cohesive society.

This month, as South Africa and countries around the world celebrated Mandela Day, there is a greater poignancy as we reflect on the great man’s legacy now that he is no longer with us in person, just in spirit. As we remember his life, his leadership, the sacrifices he made to achieve our freedom and a better future as citizens of this country, and his passion for furthering humanitarian causes, we are encouraged to follow his example and make a difference in the world. As Nelson Mandela said: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is the difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”.

He had a vision of social justice and freedom for all, and he made great strides in working to fulfil that vision – today, it is his living legacy to us all and it requires us, as engaged citizens, to play our part in serving our communities and our country and making them better places in which to live and thrive.

This year, Mandela Day encouraged us all to become ‘Mandela Changemakers’, citizens of the world who each day do something proactive that can effect positive change that will benefit everyone and the world we live in.

Changemakers play their part by giving their personal time to make a change that’s close to their heart or by giving a little of their time to make a difference to the life of someone else. There are so many ways to make a difference and become a Mandela Changemaker; perhaps starting with what you are passionate about and where you know your actions will have a lasting impact.

The power of the individual

The concept of recognising the power of the individual to play his/her part, to be the change, and genuinely make a difference to society through voluntary actions and contributions is a continuation of the powerful “Play your Part” campaign promoted by Brand South Africa. The key message behind “Play your Part” is that as caring and responsible citizens, we all need to be more accountable and to play proactive and contributable roles in the development of South Africa as a caring society. The underlying premise of this important campaign is that we all recognise to make positive change happen in the country on the scale that is needed, its starts with the individual, and that individual positive actions, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can make the ultimate difference in the societies and communities in which we all live and work. If every individual looks to his/her own conscience and takes accountability for the contributions he/she makes outside of their own family and work lives to their communities and to society as a whole, then real positive change for good can happen.

Food, shelter and education for all

This Mandela Day, citizens were asked to play their part and focus on the realisation or restoration of dignity and empowerment through their individual contributions to society.

There are a number of key focus areas where citizens can make a difference through their positive actions. The first looks at how we can all help to address one of the biggest challenges here in South Africa and indeed around the world; ensuring food security. All people, at all times, should have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. This is a crucial social support measure for effective development and growth. We can all play our part in working to achieve food security in the country for those who are most vulnerable by getting involved in community feeding activities, preparing food parcels for the disadvantaged, and working to establish community food gardens so that residents can have the opportunity to work at feeding themselves through their own efforts.

Another key challenge that requires us all to play our part is in the field of education and literacy. In a world where knowledge truly is power, education and literacy are the basic building blocks that unlock the gates of opportunity and success for our citizens. As individuals, we can get involved in the drive for literacy, helping our children, our young people, and our adult learners in their reading and learning activities to help them reach their goals. By getting involved and playing our part, we can be part of the solution and help by giving every citizen the chance to fulfil his/her potential and dreams.

The challenge of providing adequate shelter and infrastructure for all the country’s citizens is another that requires us all to play our part if we are to see a day when everyone can proudly say they have a place to call home. To achieve this vision, all South Africa’s citizens need to play their part, join together and look to see how their individual skills, talent and resources can be used to build the much needed shelter and infrastructure that will give hope to families and communities around the country.

A life lived in service

Finally, we can all play our part in living Mandela’s legacy by committing ourselves to a life and philosophy of service and volunteerism, giving our time and energy in some small way each day that can make a difference to the lives of others. Volunteerism is a powerful means of encouraging and providing a tangible mechanism for the country’s citizens to engage in activities that tackle developmental, societal and community challenges. It is not prohibitive, it is not exclusive, it recognises that everyone has something they can contribute, whether their time, skills or knowledge through volunteer action, and their combined efforts can be a significant force for achieving peace, development and sustainability. There is no doubt that the practical act of volunteering makes important economic and social contributions to all spheres of society. It not only provides direct support to individual community projects, national development initiatives and environmental programmes, but also has the power to contribute to the building of a more cohesive society by building trust and acknowledging the power of giving back amongst citizens.

The Play Your Part campaign empowers every individual in the country to get involved, take a stand and make positive change happen in the communities in which we live and work. If we all take a little time out of our busy daily lives and work schedules to acknowledge the significant challenges that need to be addressed in the country, and take a positive decision to do something about finding solutions to those challenges, then we can all be part of the positive change that needs to happen in our country and act as role models for the rest of the world to follow. We can also become Mandela’s Changemakers and ensure that his legacy is fulfilled and the world becomes a better place as a result of his vision and our action in making it a reality.

Although Mandela Day has passed, we are all called on to make everyday a Mandela Day.