“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela
In 2009 the UN declared 18th July as International Mandela Day in honour of the global icon and human rights activist Nelson Mandela. The day marks the birthday of the former South African President affectionately known as Madiba. He regularly talked about the importance of education in eradicating poverty and fostering greater democracy especially on the African continent
Mandela Day is aimed at following in Madiba’s footsteps and inspiring people to spend 67 minutes of their time in transforming the world and create a movement that enhances the lives of those in need.
In keeping with Madiba’s legacy, UN Information Centre Pretoria will this year provide desk-bags to pupils from Sefako Mapogo Makgatho Primary school in Atteridegvile, Pretoria West. The roll out of the deskbags will be an ongoing project for the support of underprivileged schools in the country. The initiative also ties in with the UN’s Sustainable Development goal of access to quality education. Primary schools are the foundation for learning. A solid house cannot be built on an unstable foundation. Likewise, children are more likely to stay in school if they succeed at it. The deskbag initiative is aimed at encouraging primary school learners to learn with less difficulty and to further encourage their desire to excel. Furthermore, their success at primary school level will foster the need and want to stay in school.
The school earmarked for the deskbags is named after Sefako Makgatho, a South African teacher, journalist and human rights activist. He was born in 1861 in the now Limpopo Province and began his education in Pretoria. He was a founding member of one of the first teachers union, the Transvaal African Teachers’ Association (TATA) and was actively involved in the struggle against segregation as ANC President in his later years
Research by deskbags.co.za, the company that produces the bags for distribution to schools in need, indicates that over three million school children in South Africa use the ground as a writing surface while kneeling or sitting on the floor. Others write on their lap. The result of this is that the children become very tired, uncomfortable and dirty as they try to learn. “One can only imagine the barriers to learning this creates to children that are already dealing with the effects of living in low socio-economic circumstances” said Director of the UN Information Centre in Pretoria, Maureen Nkandu.
Education is the key to empowering children and youth towards a better future and it is hoped that the use of deskbags will not only make learning more comfortable and fun but also restore the dignity of the African child.
Previous UNIC Pretoria Mandela Day initiatives
Many of UNIC Pretoria’s Mandela Day initiatives have included education and the upliftment of impoverished areas in South Africa. In 2014 the UN in South Africa organized a Book Drive for under-resourced libraries in impoverished townships outside Pretoria. On the eve of Nelson Mandela International Day, the UN arranged a screening of an acclaimed new South African documentary titled The Vula Connection, which tells the story of the unsung heroes and global solidarity in the anti-apartheid struggle.
In 2015, the UN, partnered with Sabido Productions and Cinema Nouveau, Brooklyn to screen the acclaimed documentary “Mandela: The Passing of an Icon” to mark Nelson Mandela International Day. Apart from the documentary screening, different UN agencies in South Africa such as the UNAIDS Programme on HIV and AIDS, the UN Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and United Nations Volunteers, heeded the call to action by participating in several 67 minutes for Mandela initiatives around the country.
The United Nations in South Africa has each year made the commemoration of this day one of its paramount rituals by organizing various activities that motivate people to give back to their communities by following Mandela’s footsteps.