Madiba’s legacy: A note from Portugal
When the greatest political icon of our generation, Nelson Mandela, passed away three years ago this week, I was deeply shocked. The world had lost a leading advocate for democracy and human rights, his country a much-beloved statesman, and his family a loving and wise guardian.
Keitumetse Matthews, South Africa’s ambassador to Portugal, has challenged me and the Portuguese people to help further Mandela’s legacy in my own country and beyond. By way of motivation, she reminded me that Madiba’s legacy is important for all those who yearn for a more just, peaceful and prosperous world, not just for the people of South Africa. She reminded me that it is not enough to just yearn for those things. What Mandela taught us was that they require action.
Mandela believed that it is our acts of kindness that allow us to grow and develop as human beings. No act is too small, be it visiting a lonely elderly person to have a chat, offering to shop for a home-bound carer, or assisting a person with a disability. Indeed, small acts have big results for the recipient, the family and the community.
He taught us that a person is only a person because of other people.
This belief resonates with my own views on the importance of community and volunteer work, and so, when Matthews started the dialogue with my office on how to celebrate International Mandela Day in Portugal, it was a natural meeting of minds.
We started slowly, building on existing work with the South African embassy to recognise and support the work of a local convent that provides food for the homeless. The way in which all involved genuinely embraced the name Mandela convinced us of his enduring legacy.
The Portuguese people have actively sought to further Mandela’s legacy.
Not content with the 67 minutes of community action during his annual birthday celebrations, in March 2011 Nelson Mandela launched “Mandela Mondays” to encourage more consistent voluntary action, every week of the year.
In May 2011, Portugal was the first country outside South Africa to embrace this important initiative. It was launched in Lisbon and the Olympic judo champion Nuno Delgado was chosen by the Nelson Mandela Foundation as a Mandela Ambassador in sport.
In July 2013, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Centre of Dialogue for Justice helped organise a conference in the Portuguese city of Setubal that empowered socially disadvantaged young people to resolve problems they faced through dialogue and mediation.
An additional conference outcome was a draft conflict resolution protocol supported by community, labour and youth organisations.
On Friday, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital became a reality when the newly built hospital opened its doors in Johannesburg. It is particularly gratifying to know that the Portuguese people also contributed generously through their donations to this great cause.
Of course, much more needs to be done to further Madiba’s legacy through meaningful dialogue and personal action for change.
All of which is why Portugal wants to play its role not only in ensuring that the Mandela legacy lives on in the way he would have wanted, but also aspires to become a key promoter of his legacy.
Passos Coelho is the former prime minister of Portugal and leader of the
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