18 July is Nelson Mandela International Day, established by the United Nations. It marks the birthday of the globally acclaimed Nobel Peace Prize winner, the South African icon of peace, justice, democracy, reconciliation and healing.
On Mandela Day people of goodwill are encouraged to spend 67 minutes of their time in service to others in need, in appreciation of the 67 years that Nelson Mandela spent fighting for equality and human rights for all.
His eldest daughter, Dr. Makaziwe Mandela, was in Rome to celebrate the International Day.
Affectionately known as Maki Mandela, she is a rights activist following in the footsteps of her father. She told Vatican Radio that she finds herself in Italy to participate in the Turin Fashion week with a fashion collection produced by ‘House of Mandela’, the Foundation she heads to promote development and showcase the history, culture and legacy of the Mandela family and their people.
Marking Nelson Mandela International Day, she reflected on the timeliness of her father’s message in a world fraught with division, conflict and fear.
The world is in chaos, Maki said, and wars have plagued Africa for many decades.
“Mainly because of greed, because of racism and ethnicity, poverty has always been with us.”
Expressing her belief that as long as these differences exist, the world will not experience peace, and in line with her father’s vision, she said the only path to global stability is that of dialogue and encounter.
These are words and concepts that resonate with Pope Francis’ call for fraternity.
I asked her how they resonate in South Africa today, a democratic country thanks to the struggle of her father and his comrades, and thanks to his vision based on reconciliation and healing; a country, however, that has not lived up to the model he built, but that still struggles with poverty, inequality, corruption and division.
“What we see in South Africa today, in the past and today, are the racial divisions that exist in every country in the world,” Maki said.
She noted that also in European Italy, there’s “the issue of immigrants who arrive and who are not welcomed, included and integrated into society.”
“So I think it’s not just the role of South Africa, it’s the role of Africa as a continent, it’s the role of Europe as a continent, of Asia and of America as continents, to begin to build the bridges across borders and dismantle the differences and the divisions that are causing us to live in fear,” she said.
Maki Mandela pointed to ignorance as a culprit for the state of things in which the world finds itself today.
“In my view, [ignorance] is the thing that contributes, because a lot of us do not read, do not educate ourselves. We don’t learn from the past. And if we are not learning from the past, we don’t know how to structure a future that will benefit all of us,” she said.
“We have to go beyond these differences and learn to be empathetic, compassionate and kind to each other.”
Commenting on the fact that Dr. Mandela’s father was a man who “trusted” in humanity, as witnessed by his harsh and decade-long struggle, believing in a better South Africa and a better world, “Are you the same?” I asked: “Do you believe we will overcome what we are going through?”
“I am an eternal optimist,” she replied, “I still struggle with the issue of forgiveness, which came naturally to my father. But one thing I’ve learnt in life is that if you are bitter and twisted and angry, you only destroy yourself. You kill yourself.”
“But when you learn to forgive and be kind and generous to all people, you thrive as an individual. And I think my message and I think the message of Pope Francis today is that all of us have the natural ability to do good in this world.”
By Linda Bordoni