On Sunday, 11 February, 1990, a little after 4p.m., Nelson Mandela was released from prison. I watched with my family as he triumphantly raised his fists in the air. There were tears, there were cheers, and a profound sense that I was witness to an incredible moment in history. I fell in love with South Africa that day.
The country's first, fully representative, democratic election was held on 27 April 1994. I was not old enough to vote. But I did accompany my parents, and watched with deep joy as they voted for the first time, for president. I proudly called myself South African that day.
The pride and joy I felt for my country grew tremendously throughout Mr. Mandela's presidency. In particular, his focus on two population groups shaped my social awareness: women & youth.
In his opening address to South Africa's first democratic parliament in 1994, Mr. Mandela said:
“It is vitally important that all structures of government, including the President himself, should understand this fully: that freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
Recognizing the importance of women and women's leadership, Mr. Mandela committed to an informal quota of having at least 30 percent of his parliament represented by women.
And to honor the women who fought for freedom and forged the path for justice, August 9th in South Africa is designated as National Women's Day.
Mr. Mandela's government reviewed the country's public holidays to ensure that the calendar was reflective of the total experience of all the people. As such, June 16th is commemorated as National Youth Day, for the young people who gave their lives during the Soweto Uprisings of 1976.
Youth have been very important to Mr.Mandela. He was one of the founders of The African National Congress Youth League - the organization that influenced his leadership.
As president, he was keenly aware of the responsibilities that lay with the next generation - he challenged and inspired them. In 2005, in an address to youth at the "Make Poverty History" campaign , Mr. Mandela passed the baton of action to all young people:
"I am proud to wear the symbol of this global call to action in 2005. This white band is from my country. In a moment, I want to give this band to you – young people ... – and ask you to take it forward along with millions of others to the G8 summit in July. I entrust it to you. I will be watching with anticipation".
"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom".
These words have been the inspiration for The Blossom Project. I am proud that this program has been created from the inspiration of a true hero. I will continue to honor the life and vision of this extraordinary man, in all that The Blossom Project continues to do.
I hope that you, too can find inspiration from Mr. Mandela.
Hamba Kahle, Madiba.
Blossom Project Participants
We are empowered high school girls, inspired to make a positive difference in the world.