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Celebrating Nelson Mandela Day
July 18, 2014
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Release, a tribute by artist Marco Cianfanelli in Howick, South Africa, near where Mandela was arrested in 1962 (Photo: RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, and following a unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly in 2009, the world has recognized that day each year as Nelson Mandela Day. It's an opportunity to celebrate the life and work of the South African leader and anti-apartheid fighter, but also to push forward his mission of righting social injustices and inspiring change.

This year, of course, marks the first Nelson Mandela Day celebrated after the death of the man for which the day is named. To mark the day, an open letter addressed to world leaders was published today and signed by Bono, Malala Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu, Mandela's widow Graça Machel, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and Sudanese-British entrepreneur and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim.

"We write to sound a warning," they write. "A warning that 2015 will be a year of huge opportunity, but also of huge risk." The opportunity and risk have to do with two significant global processes culminating next year: the replacement of the UN development framework and the conclusion of a new climate treaty. The letter continues:

Down one hopeful path we have built on progress, and learned how to eradicate extreme poverty, hunger, as well as put an end to preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths. In so doing, we will give everyone everywhere opportunity and the right to lead their lives with dignity without jeopardising our planet’s ability to provide for its people now and into the future. This is an entirely possible outcome if we do the right thing.

Down another path we have failed to build on progress, but have allowed the injustice of poverty, hunger and pandemics to spread. A growing insecurity caused by unequal access to increasingly scarce natural resources leads to tragic conflicts from which nobody – no elite, no matter how rich – can hide. This is an entirely plausible outcome of a complacent business as usual approach to 2015.

Others are making Mandela day in all sorts of ways. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, the organization behind the day, has called upon people around the world inspired by Mandela's actions to "emulate the servant leader we loved by all becoming servant leaders ourselves – Madiba changemakers." The Foundation's Mandela Day website includes tools to help get involved and spread the wold about actions you take to make your community and world a better place.

Yesterday in Ottawa, South African High Commissioner Membathisi Mdladlana joined Mayor Jim Watson to dedicate Nelson Mandela Square on the Elgin St. side of City Hall. "We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela," Mdladlana said. "We now have a place, when we want to think of him, we come to."

RELATED: Nelson Mandela 1918-2013: An Extraordinary Life In Words And Pictures

Tonight on the show, George's guest will be Idris Elba, who portrayed Mandela in last year's Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. In this clip, Elba talks about how he came to understand Nelson Mandela's sacrifice in Robben Island Prison, where he spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars.

The episode will also feature a special tribute to Mandela from various red chair guests whose lives he touched. Tune in to CBC-TV at 11:30 pm on Friday, July 18 to catch the show.

And what better what to celebrate Nelson Mandela today than with the classic "Free Nelson Mandela" from The Special AKA?:


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