Frederik Willem de Klerk and Mandela shake hands at the World Economic Forum, 1992. *Photo from Wikipedia
July 18 is Nelson Mandela International Day (or Mandela Day).
It is an annual international day in honor of Nelson Mandela, celebrated each year on July 18, Mandela’s birthday. The day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day held on July 18, 2010. However, other groups began celebrating Mandela Day on July 18, 2009.
The Mandela Day campaign message is:
“Nelson Mandela has fought for social justice for 67 years. We’re asking you to start with 67 minutes.”
“We would be honored if such a day can serve to bring together people around the world to fight poverty and promote peace, reconciliation and cultural diversity,” according to a statement issued on Mandela’s behalf.
After the National Party’s white-only government established apartheid – a system of racial segregation that privileged whites – Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) committed themselves to its overthrow. Mandela was appointed President of the ANC’s Transvaal branch, rising to prominence for his involvement in the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People. He was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the 1956 Treason Trial. Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the banned South African Communist Party (SACP). Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant “Umkhonto we Sizwe” in 1961 and led a sabotage campaign against the government. In 1962, Mandela was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the state and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial. He served 27 years in prison.
Amid growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk negotiated an end to apartheid and organized the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became President. Leading a broad coalition government which promulgated a new constitution, Mandela emphasized reconciliation between the country’s racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses.
Mandela declined a second presidential term and in 1999 was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.