President Bill Clinton addresses the crowd

June 24, 2010 – Former US President Bill Clinton spoke at the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Centre of Memory and Dialogue today in support of Mandela Day on July 18.

Mandela Day is a day of public service when members of the public are encouraged to do something good for at least 67 minutes in honour of more than 67 years that Nelson Mandela dedicated to public service and the fight for social justice.

President Clinton spoke about the need for Nelson Mandela Day and encouraged people to embrace the day of service on Nelson Mandela’s birthday July 18.

President Clinton delivered the first Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in 2003. He has been supportive of the Mandela Day initiative and in 2009 showed his support by attending a Mandela Day gala dinner with Ms. Graça Machel in New York. The event gathered together some of the world’s most influential people for a dinner and an auction, which was used to raise funds for Mandela Day.

This year he is again endorsing the initiative and encouraging individuals to go out and support this day of service.

He said: “We need to build civil society – we can’t do it all with government and the private sector.”

He mentioned that in the US, Martin Luther King Day, which is a public holiday, was redefined as a public service day – “a day on and not a day off” – and he is delighted that the same has been proposed for Mandela Day.

He went on to emphasise the ethos behind Mandela Day: that if people come together to do good, far more can be achieved than by working as individuals.

He said: “If you have one national day of service, what everyone can do together is more than Nelson Mandela could do in his prime.”

He pointed to the massive outpouring of support for the people of Haiti following the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010, and how the money pledged by the public dwarfed that donated by the millionaires and celebrities from around the world, again showing the power of collective action.

He said: “We have to do it person by person. We all have to start thinking that if we all band together we can make a huge difference.”

“The point of making Mandela’s birthday a service day is that very few problems can be solved by government and the private sector alone. People have to step into the breach. This is something that every South African can do for him and your common future.”

These words were echoed by anti-apartheid activist and Nelson Mandela Foundation trustee, Mr. Ahmed Kathrada when he said: “Nelson Mandela Day means different things to individuals, but the important thing is getting everyone united in service for just 67 minutes. What is most inspiring is hearing what children do, like organising schools to paint old age homes. The initiatives come from people themselves.

“Continuing the legacy of Nelson Mandela is about making his vision a reality. In his words, we will only be getting there when every child gets to go to school with something in their stomachs, are well fed and properly educated. The biggest thing we can do is make our own contribution.”

President Clinton applauded Mr Mandela’s ability to identify the personal face in any problem: “What I have always loved about Madiba is that he doesn’t see political issues in the abstract but he saw the face [of the issue]. He could visualise every single public service act in terms of the personal.

“Take a day once a year to honour this great man, and it will have an impact that will go across the continent and the world.”

Achmat Dangor, Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO, said: “He [Bill Clinton] has been a long standing supporter of the Foundation and Mr Mandela. His work in Africa resonates hugely with the principles and ethos behind Mandela Day. His message is simple, everyone can do something.”

Businessman and politician Cyril Ramaphosa said: “It is more than important [that President Bill Clinton supports Mandela Day]. Bill Clinton has a long relationship with Nelson Mandela and South Africa and he is very influential and inspirational.”

Leslie Maasdorp, vice-chairman of ABSA Capital, said: “Nelson Mandela is such an icon and inspires our staff in a concrete way to contribute to society – to give just 67 minutes of their life in service. The pride we feel as a nation is a direct result of the Mandela legacy.”

Also in the audience was Auma Obama, US President Barack Obama’s half-sister. Obama earlier in the day went on a tour of the Foundation’s Centre for Memory and Dialogue with US Ambassador Donald Gips.

She said: “This [the Centre of Memory and Dialogue] is a very special place and I am honoured to be able to be a part of it. This is a big piece of history [here] and the man himself made it possible. He is more than an icon; an icon is someone who is made and he was making history happen long before [he became an icon].”


US Ambassador Donald H Gips was in the audience


From left to right: Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Auma Obama and Elizabeth Gips


Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Achmat Dangor


Leslie Maasdorp, vice-chairman of ABSA Capital


President Bill Clinton speaks at the Nelson Mandela Foundation today


Auma Obama on a tour of the Nelson Mandela Foundation archives