July 18th is another national holiday. Today is Mandela’s birthday or Mandela day for short. South Africans are encouraged to commemorate Mandela Day with 67 minutes of service: one minute for each year of his political imprisonment.
South Africa honors the late Mandela in a myriad of ways. His face graces all the paper rand notes, birthplace is a tourist destination off the N2, and shadow cutout is prominent on children’s backpacks. I am usually wary of lionizing a person, but if you read his highly recommended autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom, he also disliked the same perception. As a first person reference, the book is biased however Mandela spends most of the book discussing the team of South Africans that brought Apartheid down. Whites, Coloreds, Indians, Communist, and other Africans group (besides the illustrious Xhosas: Mandela’s ethnic groups), With that said, Mandela was wise in many respects and a case example was his reluctant acceptance that South Africa needed a national hero and his unplanned 61 years of imprisonment was what inspired the Rainbow Nation.
A lot of countries like South Africa provide one individual with a title like “Father or Mother” of the country. In the United Kingdom it is the Queen Mother, the US tends to be George Washington, and in South Africa (with the exception of certain political factions) undeniably it is Nelson Mandela. Until PC, I was confused why a country, a sociological unit composed of at least tens of people, would be reduced to one person as a figurehead. It appeared to undermine how complicated and diverse the human experience is by taking a single story. However countries with a national hero need that motivation to pull through arduous times and heal from painful histories.
Even in my valley, Mandela has an impact. He is behind an informal monument on the road to the Upper Valley’s Soup Kitchen. There is a man my director describes as mentally unstable, but I call an intricate architect because he constructed a representation of Robben Island. You have to admit that it is pretty impressive.
My valley has no mental health services (beyond basic social work services), and I am sure this man and his family have difficulty supporting his mental needs. However it is incredible to see how Mandela motivated this man in a creative way. His life is not completely miserable. I have to imagine his pride upon finishing the project.
Mandela was far from perfect (like the way he treated his immediate family and wives). Yet if you spend 6 months in South Africa…you cannot ignore the positive impact he left. His legacy continues to move South Africa forward.
Finally on a random side note, Mandela deserves post-humorous credit for my PCV service. A year ago today, I accepted my invitation to South Africa. Technically I was invited on the 11th but I had to navigate the new PC application process announcement and an accepted graduate school offer. I took the week allowed to reflect, but when I learned that South Africa has a day dedicated to service, I was sold. I am about to watch a local dance group perform and feel incredibly lucky to be present in the Rainbow Nation.