Statue of Nelson Mandela, Union Buildings, South Africa

“I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.”
Nelson Mandela

July 18 marks Mandela International Day, a day that is at risk of suffering a similar commercialised fate that is now synonymous with Easter, Mother’s Day and Christmas.

We don’t need to wait for Mandela Day to perform our acts of service toward one another. Mandela Day is merely a source of inspiration and reminder about our collective responsibility to improve the condition of our world. Hence a simple call to service for just 67 minutes – each minute symbolically marking the 67 years that Madiba dedicated his life to public service.

Indeed, on this day many people and organisations around the world have ceased the opportunity to serve their communities in practical and relevant ways, contributing to the transformational legacy that Madiba left behind.

However, it is also alarming to see how others are using Mandela Day for personal and business transaction purposes. Instead of meeting the needs of their clients and communities in practical ways, we see photo-appearances, marketing gears, concerts, talk-shops and celebrity fanfares. Everything that brings attention and glory to ourselves.

We are missing the point.

When I lamented my observations to a friend, I received an unexpected yet apt response: “ we should all go to prison”.

I laughed at the double pun: the fact that we should be imprisoned for hijacking the day for our own glory and profit making and secondly the fact that out of all places we could do service, it was being suggested that we serve at prisons. With that vivid imagery, I was careful not to ask how long our service there should be.

The prison metaphor reminded me that the reason why we miss the point of what the call to service is, speaks to the fact that we don’t truly comprehend the sacrifice that Mandela paid during his 27 years behind bars for a greater cause. Secondly, we don’t appreciate the value and power of servant-leadership. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant”

We are a world that is used to entitlements, of taking and not giving back. We are reluctant to sacrifice our time, skills and knowledge for the benefit of others. We don’t want to get dirty or be inconvenienced. Although we think this makes us free, in reality we remain prisoners of our lifestyles, comfort zones and the status quo.

In honoring Nelson Mandela Day, we need to remember that it is in giving and serving that we grow and transcend our inclination to focus on our own interests, pain and needs. It is in serving that we transform our own lives.

It only takes 67 minutes to change the world on Mandela Day and every other day.

There is nothing I fear more than waking up without a program that will help me bring a little happiness to those with no resources, those who are poor, illiterate, and ridden with terminal disease”. NM

Pearl M

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