“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” -Nelson Mandela

To close out the month of July, let us reflect on freedom. When we think of “freedom” and July, most of us will immediately think about the 4th of July and some of the traditions that go along with it – maybe a day off work, hot dogs, ice cream, and fireworks. During that day, we might pause for a moment to reflect on our country’s independence and what freedom means to us living in the United States. 

But, did you know there’s another date in July that celebrates freedom? 

In 2009, the United Nations declared July 18th “Nelson Mandela Day” to commemorate the birth of a man who spent his life on the path to gaining freedom and racial equality. 

Nelson Mandela. (Photo by Matthew Willman/ Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Born in South Africa, Nelson Mandela rose as a prominent political figurehead in his fight against the apartheid, a system of oppression and discrimiation upheld by the minority white population in South Africa. For a long while, the apartheid was the governing power in the country which adopted legislation that enforced strict racial segregation policies. Politically active since he was a young adult, Mandela was affiliated with the African National Congress (ANC), a South African democratic party which focused on South Africa’s liberation of the apartheid system and gaining rights for Black people within the country, On August 5th, 1962, due to conspiracies made to overthrow the apartheid government, Mandela was arrested. He spent almost 30 years in prison. 

As we move into August, let us not forget this important date in history as it was here that the world began to take notice of the events happening in South Africa. Through his political affiliations and his ability to light a fire under the apartheid rule, Mandela was already labeled a hero. Once his arrest and detainment was discovered, tensions grew in South Africa leading to multiple protests among the Black communities and people of all races around the world, crying for change – with Mandela identified as the symbol for that change.

From the growing pressures of the global community, the South African government released Mandela from prison on February 11th,1990 at 71 years old. The government had also began dismantling the apartheid system to allow for multiracial elections. That same year, Mandela was elected ANC deputy president, and went on to be awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and elected South Africa’s first Black president on May 9th, 1994.

As the newly elected president, Mandela had a vision for South Africa and recognized that no one could experience freedom unless everyone was free. He connected with the dismantled apartheid to create positive change, while setting an example of forgiveness and reconciliation. In response, Mandela created a Truth & Reconciliation Commission to address the injustices of the apartheid in a restorative way that brought about healing and understanding.

As we continue to reflect on freedom let’s also continue to think about the concept of “freedom for all.” Mandela was quoted in saying, “I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all my people were the chains on me.” The Alliance has committed to asking ourselves these questions and facilitating these discussions on a regular basis – but we’d love for you to join the conversation as well. What does “freedom for all” mean to you?

If you would like to dive more into the life of Nelson Mandela, please check out these resources below:

This blog was co-written by Ola Davis, Local Government Program Assistant, and Adam Bray, Virginia Program Assistant.

Works Cited::

History.com Editors, March 3, 2020, “Apartheid,” Retrieved on July 28, 2020. https://www.history.com/topics/africa/apartheid

United Nations Publications, 2020 “Nelson Mandela International Day July 18,” Retrieved on July 28, 2020. https://www.un.org/en/events/mandeladay/

Nelson Mandela Foundation, 2020, “Timeline,” Retrieved on July 28, 2020. https://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/timeline