Rachel Schaeffer is the host of The Red Couch, a dynamic online, TV, and radio talk show featuring powerful people sharing their secrets to creating a meaningful and joy-filled life. She is author of Yoga for Your Spiritual Muscles and founder of The Power of Love event to raise awareness about violence against women.
How can a prison number be used to create hope for the millions of people suffering from HIV/AIDS?
When human rights activist Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for his efforts to end apartheid, he was given identification number 46664 (pronounced four double six, six four) because he was the 466th prisoner to arrive in the year ’64.
He was released twenty-seven years later and went on to become South Africa’s first black president. Since then, his prison number has become synonymous with his worldwide charity efforts and humanitarianism, including the global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign, and the extraordinary concerts to raise money for the campaign.
The mission of The Mandela Foundation, established after Mandela’s retirement from office, is to contribute “to the making of a just society by promoting the vision, values and work of its founder, and convening dialogue around critical social issues.” Two sister charity organizations, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, are also aligned with this mission.
According to Avert, an international HIV and AIDS charity based in the UK, as 2009 was closing, an estimated 22.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were living with HIV. During that same year, 1.3 million Africans died from the pandemic. Nearly 90% of the 16.6 million children orphaned by AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Part of the efforts to beat the AIDS pandemic is the 46664 Bangle Project. Bangles are handcrafted silver, gold or platinum “bracelets” engraved with Mandela’s prison number, 46664, and a laser image of Mandela’s hand. Unlike the prison identification Mandela wore behind bars, the bangle is open on both ends, signifying freedom.
According to the Bangle website (www.thebangle.com/aboutthebangle.html), “The Bangle Program makes a positive impact through job creation and skills training, while also promoting a message of social responsibility.” Everyone involved benefits, including the formerly unemployed, disadvantaged, and HIV-positive people in South Africa. Celebrities around the world support the 46664 campaign and wear the bangle.
At an AIDS benefit concert in late 2003, part of Mandela’s 46664 campaign to fight AIDS, he said, “Millions of people infected with HIV are in danger of being reduced to mere numbers unless we act. They too are serving a prison sentence—for life. So I have allowed my prison number to help drive this campaign.”
In addition to bangles bearing his prison number, Mandela has streets, parks and squares all over the world named after him. He is the recipient of nearly two hundred awards and honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize. A nuclear particle discovery bears his name. He holds honorary degrees from dozens of universities and colleges throughout the globe. An award bestowed upon other distinguished leaders and pioneers carries his name. Buildings, schools and even music records have been named for him. Queens, heads of state and other royalty have knighted him in palaces and presented him with golden medals and the most highly prized civilian prizes of their respective countries. He has been called the leader of one of the most important revolutions of the century, an international civil rights giant, and the most admired human alive.
When I signed on to write a piece for my “Living Treasures” section of Positive Impact Magazine, I couldn’t think up a new spin on one of the most highly influential and admired people of this century. The best I can do is tell a condensed version of Mandela’s story and invite everyone to be inspired by his life.
In his early years, Mandela studied law and joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943, founding the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) within a year. In 1952, Mandela and several others built the Youth League’s Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws. Reluctantly, Mandela came to the difficult realization that non-violence was not working. He was co-founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), formed to act as the military arm of the ANC.
Mandela was arrested many times, facing charges such as treason and later sabotage, which in 1962 caused Mandela to receive a sentence of life imprisonment.
Throughout his years in prison, Mandela continued to lead efforts toward freedom for all. His second wife at the time, Winnie, was Mandela’s voice on the outside. He wrote as much as any human possibly could with difficult restrictions. Last year, a collection from his archives of notes, scribbled down sentences, journal entries and letters—mostly written in prison—were published, in Conversations with Myself.
In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela writes,
“…if they [people] can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
In a speech made while Mandela was still in prison, President Frederik Willem de Clerk declared the ANC (which was formerly an organization in exile) now legal, and announced his decision to release Mandela. He made it clear that the government of South Africa was ready to begin its reconciliation. After 27 years in prison and isolation, Mandela was released on February 11, 1990.
Mandela delivered a speech in Cape Town the day he was released from prison, where he said, “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve, but if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
In 1993, Mandela together with F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”
In a landslide victory, Mandela, at the age of 75, was elected President of South Africa.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke of Mandela: “Thus is was that when nearly everyone expected us to be overwhelmed by the most awful bloodbath, when blacks would engage in an orgy of revenge and retribution, were instead awed by the spectacle of South Africa engaging in the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led by a President and former political prisoner….”
To ensure whites that black domination would not become the rule, Mandela brought Afrikaners into his government. He wanted those who had oppressed him and his fellow blacks to know that the new South Africa was truly non-racist.
In 1999, Mandela stepped down as President. At a farewell banquet, Mandela assured the country he would still be at their service.
“It is no easy thing to rest while millions still bear the burden of poverty and insecurity.”
Mandela embodies the spirit of “ubuntu,” which according to the Bangle Project is “the African notion of human brotherhood.”
For his 89th birthday, Mandela founded “The Elders,” who according to their website, “are an independent group of eminent global leaders brought together by Mandela, that offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests humanity.” Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu are among the members of The Elders.
July 18th, Mandela’s birthday (and anniversary), is known as Nelson Mandela Day— and everyone can join the celebration by moving forward into a life of positive action. Mandela has made it clear that he wants this day to be a worldwide call to action. In fact, this July 18th, which will mark Mandela’s ninety-third birthday, he asks that everyone dedicate sixty-seven minutes to any form of humanitarian effort—supporting a charity or volunteering for a local humanitarian effort.
Why sixty-seven? Mandela dedicated sixty-seven years of his own life to achieve equity, freedom and democracy in a country that had been under white racist rule for forty-six years.
According to Mandela, “The time is always right to do right.”
Attention peacemakers: The 24th annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum will take place in Minneapolis on March 1-4, 2012. The Nobel Peace Prize Forum is a unique civic learning experience that brings Nobel Laureates, civic leaders, and scholars together with students and other citizens. As the Norwegian Nobel Institute’s only such program or academic affiliation outside of Norway, the Nobel Peace Prize Forum has a special mission: to inspire peacemaking by celebrating the work of Nobel Peace Prize winners. The event is open to the public and people of all ages are encouraged to attend. The Forum is coordinated by Augsburg College and the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
The 2012 theme is “the price of peace.” More event information will be available over the next few months, but a number of dynamic speakers have already committed to speaking, including:
F.W. de Klerk, former President of South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
President de Klerk, who won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela, was the last State President of apartheid-era South Africa, serving from 1989 to 1994. He is best known for engineering the end of apartheid, South Africa’s racial segregation policy, and for supporting the transformation of South Africa into a multi-racial democracy. In recent years, his passion for peace continues through his work addressing the complex challenges of the 21st century, such as building multicultural societies, rethinking immigration policy, and understanding global economic forces.
Sakumzi (“Saki”) Macozoma, business leader and former Member of the South African Parliament
After spending five years in prison on Robben Island during South Africa’s apartheid era, Macozoma emerged as an influential African business and political leader. In the 1990s he served as a Member of the South African Parliament, after which he worked with a number of organizations, including the South African Council of Churches, the ANC, and South African Breweries. He currently serves as Chairman of Liberty Holdings, Deputy Chairman of the Standard Bank Group, Non Executive Chairman of Safika Holdings, and Chairman of the Council of Wits University. He is also President of Business Leadership South Africa, Chairman of the Presidents Big Business Working Group. Mr. Macozoma has worked with all three South African Nobel Peace Prize Winners: Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and with the ANC; Archbishop Tutu at the South African Council of Churches and currently at the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, and Pres. F.W. de Klerk in the Economic Advisory Panel of the King of Swaziland.