Nelson Mandela International Day is celebrated each year on 18 July, Mandela's birthday. The day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day held on 18 July 2010.

The central message of Mandela Day is to inspire communities around the world to take action, inspire change, help others, and make every day a Mandela Day.

Its 10 global goals are:

  • The provision of quality education for all children
  • All children in Early Childhood Development (ECD) to have access to learning resources for development
  • Reduce hunger in families through the provision of nutritious meals
  • Eliminate malnutrition and stunting in young children
  • Provide safe shelter for families to live and thrive in
  • Eliminate homelessness
  • Sanitation that is safe in every school
  • Enable access of safe sanitation to all communities 
  • Dedicate more resources to supporting poverty eradication projects
  • Encourage public participation and activist voices towards the eradication of poverty and inequality.

Playing our part

Scotland was long at the forefront of the global anti-apartheid movement, with Glasgow, in 1981, granting Mandela the Freedom of the City – the first city in the world to do so for a political prisoner - while he was still imprisoned on Robben Island.

Other UK cities soon followed Glasgow’s lead, with a further eight UK regions - Aberdeen, Dundee, Greenwich, Islwyn in Gwent, Kingston Upon Hull, Midlothian, Newcastle and Sheffield, granting him his freedom.

In renaming St George's Place, then home to the South African Consulate, Nelson Mandela Place, Glasgow, in its own small way, condemned apartheid.

Glasgow band Simple Minds also played their part. When offered significant money to perform to segregated audiences in South Africa’s Sun City, they refused, deciding instead to organise two Mandela Day concerts, which attracted some of the biggest names in world music. These events also educated and informed a new generation about the evils of the Apartheid system.

Inspiring others

Glasgow’s, ‘think global, act local’ attitude inspired others, and saw 2,500 mayors from 56 different countries eventually signing a declaration to the UN in 1981 demanding Mandela’s release.

Mandela did not forget. In 1993, three years after being released from his 27-year incarceration, and a year before he was elected South Africa's first black president, he came to Glasgow to accept his 'Freedom'.

On the day Mandela arrived in Glasgow, it was the night of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland’s dinner, and his hotel, The Hilton, was packed with politicians, all eager to share some of his limelight. Mandela, a keen boxer in his youth, was more concerned with watching that night's Nigel Benn vs. Chris Eubank fight on the TV.

David Pratt
Mandela in George Square, Glasgow

Singing in the rain

Come the next morning, a very soggy Glasgow day, tens of thousands of people turned out in George Square to see him and hear him talk about his hopes for the future of his ‘Rainbow Nation’.

Mandela, flanked by a bagpiper, smiled and waved to the cheering crowd, and told them: “People of Glasgow, I am now free, to be with you.”

“It is a special privilege to be a guest of this great city of Glasgow. It will always enjoy a distinguished place in the records of the international campaign against apartheid. The people of Glasgow in 1981 were the first in the world to confer on me the freedom of the city at a time when I and my comrades were imprisoned on Robben Island serving life sentences, which in apartheid South Africa then meant imprisonment until death."

Whilst we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system and declared us to be free…

Nelson Mandela

"Above all, it was an act of commitment. You, the people of Glasgow, pledged that you would not relax until I was free to receive this honour in person. I am deeply grateful to you and the anti-apartheid movement in Scotland for all your efforts to this end."

Despite the pouring rain, when South African singer Mara Louw invited Mandela up to dance, he was happy to oblige, raising one of the biggest cheers of the day.

David Pratt
Mandela dancing with Mara Louw

Building a better future

On this Mandela Day, in the worlds of sport, industry, academia, and entertainment, Scotland still welcomes and values the contributions of all races, and rallies around the claim of ‘One Scotland, many cultures’. After all, it’s the contribution of the many, that makes Scotland what it is: one great country.