18.7: International Nelson Mandela Day

“There is no passion that consists in making oneself small by settling for a life that is less than the one one is capable of living” – this is a saying by Nelson Mandela, by which he also lived. International Nelson Mandela Day is a day of remembrance declared on the initiative of the United Nations by its General Assembly on 10 November 2009 and is intended to encourage humanitarian behaviour. The day of remembrance has been celebrated annually since 2010 on 18 July, the birthday of the South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is considered an outstanding representative in the struggle for freedom against oppression and social injustice. He was the most important pioneer of the conciliatory transition from apartheid to an equality-oriented, democratic state in South Africa. In 1993, he was therefore awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even during his lifetime, Mandela became a political and moral role model for many people worldwide. As head of state and president of the ANC (until December 1997), Mandela led the transformation of the state and society away from apartheid and minority rule. He won international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.

Throughout his political career, Mandela maintained a close relationship with traditional African music. After his release from prison, he occasionally danced on stage at concerts. Many musicians supported Mandela already during his imprisonment. They wrote songs in his honour or addressed his commitment, his imprisonment and his vision of a reconciled and united South Africa. One of the most famous solidarity songs for Mandela is Free Nelson Mandela, composed by Jerry Dammers. Dammers first sang it in 1984 with his band The Special A.K.A.

In July 2011, Mandela left his home in Johannesburg’s Houghton Estate and returned to his home village of Qunu. Subsequently, he had to be hospitalised several times in Pretoria. Finally, in June 2013, he fell critically ill. Numerous high-ranking politicians and the Anglican Archbishop visited him at his bedside. Many hundreds of people, including school classes, gathered outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital every day to offer get-well wishes, pray and sing. Released to his home in Johannesburg in early September, Nelson Mandela died there on 5 December 2013 surrounded by his family as a result of pneumonia. President Zuma bid farewell to his predecessor with the words: “Our nation has lost its greatest son.”

Anyone wishing to pay tribute to the life, leadership and inspiration of Nelson Mandela will find this a very moving, evocative and timely addition to a concert programme.

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