22 July 2020

How Mandela Day Can Be Used to Drive Self-Leadership and Positive Change in South Africa

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world a better place we so passionately dreamt of”. 18 July was International Nelson Mandela Day and these words are still as valid and important as they were the day Nelson Mandela spoke them aloud.

The birthday of Nelson Mandela is celebrated in South Africa on July 18th every year. This day is a commemoration of the values he stood for: peace, justice, equality, inclusion, and a non-discriminatory society. It ignites a spirit of giving, collaboration, and a motivation to drive change and help disadvantaged communities, and COVID-19 has made the need for this more clear than ever before. Nelson Mandela dedicated 67 years of his life to seeking justice and fighting oppression towards marginalized people of South Africa, and to honor this it is important to dedicate more than 67 minutes of social media effort to continue Nelson Mandela’s legacy.  

Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa ranked as the number one most unequal country in the world and the place with the highest rate of gender-based violence. This was in 2018 and the same year the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace was announced by the United Nations (UN). The Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace is a commitment to honor the late President and double the efforts to build a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, and fair world. Sadly, the efforts of this movement have not been felt much as the country’s standard of living continues to deteriorate. A lot more change needs to happen before the effects can be seen.  

UN Photo_Alet van Huyssteen

COVID-19 reality in South Africa

Even though the Coronavirus has brought the world to a standstill, it’s effects are not the same in every country. For South Africa, COVID-19 and the strict lockdown that resulted because of it has amplified the already existing disparities in race, creed, economic standing, and education. Facing one of the toughest lockdowns in the world the streets are filled with military personnel and many people have lost their jobs, which is devastating for an economy that already has an unemployment rate of 30%, most of which are youth. This financial hardship is pushing more and more people, particularly those already on the edge of society, into extreme poverty with hunger and violence increasing at a rapid rate. This is the reality for South Africa at the moment, and as a community and a team, we are trying to grasp the magnitude this situation will have on our lives, businesses, and communities. A lot of time is going into finding solutions and avenues to help all while trying to remain positive that we will overcome this together and continue the legacy Tata Madiba laid out for this great nation. The time to be radical is now!

Self-Leadership in order to shape positive change

Self-leadership is an integral part of leadership; and that involves everyone, not just the people who are directly on the team. Leadership begins with each of us acknowledging that we have a valuable contribution to make towards shaping positive change. At Impact Hub we measure change through the lens of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and we apply the same vision when addressing COVID-19. Now more than ever, it’s important to show up and stand up, not just for ourselves but also for those from marginalized and underrepresented communities who have not had the opportunity to raise their voices and speak their truth. This COVID-19 world is new for everyone and we too deserve to use our words to shape the future. A silent and unjust world is no longer acceptable and The Black Lives Matters movement attests to this. 

It’s time to listen

COVID-19 has prompted us to reflect on our personal lives and to start asking ourselves if what we are doing is serving us and creating a positive impact, and if it is not, then letting it go. This is relevant to all elements of life: in the home, at work, among the community, and in organizations. 

It’s time to listen more clearly to the needs of employees, communities, and the general public and face the challenges that are presented together. It is about the humanization of the world, and to do that South Africans need to look more at biases and privileges whilst addressing the racial and economic gaps and divides that are ever-present in the country. While many people are quarantining with home comforts such as wifi, take-away food, and families, many more do not have these privileges and are left wondering during this pandemic where their next meal will come from. The reality is that while the current government is doing its best to contain the virus, food and health relief is not being handled effectively. 

Learning and awareness are crucial for bridging gaps

The world is only waking up to realizing and admitting the racial issues that are in the world. Standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement for many people has been the first step in realizing racial issues exist and have existed throughout history. The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) “aims to ensure that the economy is structured and transformed to enable the meaningful participation of the majority of its citizens…” and to fight against the very present Apartheid past the country has been subjected to. Even COVID-19 is not hiding the effects the virus has on different races and socioeconomic statuses. 

Impact Hub Johannesburg is a community of changemakers who work on these challenges with much passion and great intent. The 2020 programs that are run by and at Impact Hub Johannesburg focus on young women of color. In 2019 the incubation and empowerment programs had education at its center, as learning and awareness are crucial for bridging gaps that will enable access to a higher standard of living and building a more inclusive society.

It is also about hosting and creating a platform where difficult conversations about women, race, and other issues which stem from the racial and unequal representation that is holding us back as a society, can be discussed.

How am I dismantling the status quo?

Let’s make Mandela Day in 2020 Day 1 for every-day self-leadership, reflection, and speaking up. We need to ask ourselves ‘how am I dismantling the status quo?’ What role can I play in my day to day life to empower and bring more balance to my South African community and people? This message is addressed to everyone in the public and private sector, corporations and unions, banks and housing developers, and also our own community! Let’s use Day 1 and all the days that follow to go beyond the 67 minutes and create real and effective change.



This article is co-written by Zinhle Phakathi and Thandi Dyani from Impact Hub Johannesburg.

Thandi Dyani

Thandi Dyani is passionate about building communities, connecting people and organizations to make innovative ideas come to life and to solve the most wicked challenges facing our societies. She believes in radical collaboration and responsible leadership, and equality.

For the last 15 years Thandi Dyani has been focusing on development issues, enabling social entrepreneurship and ecosystem building in Denmark, the Nordics, and Sub- Saharan Africa. In government institutions, NGOs, as a founder, consultant, manager, philanthropic investment manager, and CEO.

Zinhle Phakathi

Zinhle Phakathi is a networker skilled in building entrepreneurial ecosystems with a lived experience of being an entrepreneur. She possesses the following abilities: network building and negotiation skills which she uses to build communities. At the core of my being, I am passionate about crafting solutions that effectively and efficiently facilitate the economic and social of the marginalized. I believe we can collectively build a better world.