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Nelson Mandela Day – July 18

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This is a guest post by Antoinette Ofosu-Kwakye, a Law Library summer intern.  She is working with the Global Legal Research team on research related to English-speaking African nations.  Kelly and Hanibal have both written blog posts that touched on aspects of the life of Nelson Mandela: The Inspiring Story of Nelson Mandela and South Africa Freedom Day.


Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela. Photo by LSE Library via Flickr.

Today, the world joins South Africans as they celebrate the 95th birthday of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. In 2009, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared July 18 as ‘Mandela Day’ in recognition of Nelson Mandela’s longstanding dedication to humanity.  An abundance of literature provides people with the opportunity to read about the life of this great man, who is also considered one of Africa’s living legends.  The purpose of this post is not to revisit literature already written about Mandela but to celebrate his contributions towards the attainment of a constitutional transformation in South Africa – a course he helped engineer after his release from prison and during his term as President of the Republic of South Africa.

After spending 27 years in prison, Mandela was released in 1990.  In 1994, he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa and was inaugurated into office on May 10.  With concerted efforts from different stakeholders, constitutional agreements were reached between the various interested parties which led to the adoption of some transformational laws.  Notable among these were the:

  • Restoration and Extension of South African Citizenship Act No. 196 which commenced in January 1994.  As the name suggests, the purpose was to restore citizenship to those who had been deprived their rights of acquisition and recognition as South Africans – a self identity which had been fought for many years.
  • Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act No. 200 , as amended, which took effect on April 27, 1994. The Constitution was and is currently one of the most important piece of legislation to be adopted by South Africans.  With emphasis on the supremacy of the Constitution and the founding provisions, any law or conduct inconsistent with the Constitution will be declared null and void.

Additionally, Mandela’s five-year term as president of the Republic of South Africa witnessed a surge in transformational laws as he signed into law about forty-four pieces of legislation to give effect to the new constitutional dispensation.  Among these transformational legislations were the:

  • Human Rights Commission Act No. 54 of 1994. The Act was enacted to set up a commission to promote the observance of, respect for and the protection of fundamental human rights.
  • Public Protector Act 23 of 1994. This Act was enacted to allow citizens to have their complaints heard where the complaints were linked to the mal-administration of government affairs at any level and to allow for investigations into the abuse or unjustifiable exercise of power.
  • Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act No. 34 of 1995, as amended. This Act, in particular, sought to promote national unity among the different races as well as foster new relationships premised on reconciliation. As part of its purpose, this Act was to investigate human rights violations that had occurred during apartheid with the aim of granting amnesty to all those who made full disclosure of all acts committed with a political objective during the times of conflicts. The theme of this initiative was forgiveness, reconciliation and a forward-looking South Africa crossing over to a new bridge with optimism and trust for one another.
  • National Youth Commission Act 19 of 1996. This act recognized the important role played by the youth of South Africa and the need to continue to support them.  The preamble to the Act states:

SINCE it is necessary to create a united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society, in which the youth of South Africa shall promote national

reconciliation and unity, build a new patriotism and foster peace, justice and a human rights culture;

AND SINCE it is imperative that South Africa recognises the role that youth played and will still play in society, and since the youth in South Africa constitutes an energetic, creative and the largest sector of our population, and given the challenges this sector faced and continues to face;

AND SINCE it is necessary to redress the imbalances of the past and to create a national youth policy aimed at empowering the youth and allowing them to realise their full potential through optimal access to opportunities.

These transformational laws were measures to secure equal protection under the rule of law and to relinquish the ideologies created under the apartheid laws. Today, citizens enjoy an established Bill of Rights that protects all South Africans, a universal adult suffrage, and a multi-party system of democratic government, among other rights.

In essence, the celebration of Mandela Day is a call for people to dedicate 67 minutes – a number which connotes Mandela’s 67 years of struggle – of their time to support a charity event or to serve their local community.  Prior to the U.N.’s adoption of Mandela Day, South Africans commemorated this day with the Nelson Mandela annual lectures. In 1993, while delivering a speech at the Soochow University, Taiwan, Mandela  stated that the struggle during apartheid was mainly for a democratic Constitution. In his speech he noted that:

 …Democracy and human rights are inseparable. We cannot have the one  without the other. It will not be an easy road that our country is going to travel. The end of apartheid will not guarantee the beginning of democracy. But until apartheid is totally destroyed, there can be no democracy.

As an example of how this day is celebrated throughout the world, the City of Toronto, joining in this year’s celebration, has issued a proclamation declaring July 18 as ‘Nelson Mandela Day.’

Comments (3)

  1. Could he have accomplished what he did without faith, hope, love, humility, forgiveness, and mercy?

  2. “Could he have accomplished what he did without faith, hope, love, humility, forgiveness, and mercy?” – Joe

    I don’t know, that’s such a vague question, it’s hard to say. I guess I’d have to tackle each one individually. Faith – Most definitely not, his unwavering faith to his cause held him together through prison. Hope – Again, without hope he would have given up. Pretty obvious answer really. Love – Well love for his fellow man is the foundation of his philosophy, so kind of a moot question. Humility – I think he could have done it without humility; he seemed (justifiably) unquestioning in the correctness of his beliefs. Forgiveness – Again I think he could do without it, but it would have slowed down the recovery process. Mercy – “until apartheid is totally destroyed” doesn’t sound like mercy to me, lol.

  3. this is very not detailed

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