Today is Nelson Mandela Day. July 18th was Nelson Mandela’s birthday (he died in 2013 and would have been 101 today), and while it’s not an official holiday, it’s a day when South Africans are called to do something small but significant to help others in their country. I spent the day driving through rural Limpopo province and happened to meet a legendary South African artist who has made many beautiful sculptures portraying Mandela. I’ll have more to say about Johannes Maswanganyi in a future post. But the actual purpose of today’s post is to tell you about Andrea’s Little Lung Warmers. 67 Little Lung Warmers for Nelson Mandela Day A couple of months ago a woman named Andrea asked if I could photograph a project she was working on. Andrea is a knitter and she was making 67 tiny sweaters — Andrea calls them Little Lung Warmers — to donate to charity in honor of Mandela Day. The number 67 is significant for Mandela Day because Mandela served South Africa for 67 years. (Read more here.) Once the sweaters were finished, Andrea wanted to photograph each one and then donate them to Friends of Tambo Babies. Andrea and I […]
UPDATE (March 2017): I wrote this post six years ago, at a time when I was pretty clueless about life in South Africa and how to write about it. I regret the title of the post and the poverty-porn-like tone that much of its prose conveys. But I have a policy of never deleting any of my old posts, so it will stay. Last Saturday Joe and I went to Diepsloot, a sprawling informal settlement — or squatter camp — on the northern outskirts of Joburg. We went with the Joburg Photowalkers to attend a Mandela Day celebration sponsored by the Diepsloot Arts and Culture Network. Diepsloot. Squatter camps like Diepsloot sprouted up in the mid-1990s, when the apartheid-era townships overflowed with people flocking to South Africa’s cities, and the government began moving those people to empty tracts of land on the cities’ edges. Nearly two decades later, the population is still growing and poverty rages on. Squatter camps, which consist mostly of corrugated iron shacks without running water or electricity, continue to swell. About 200,000 people live in Diepsloot.
When I moved to South Africa last year, I had a vague understanding of the role Nelson Mandela played in ending apartheid and reinventing this country. (Nelson Mandela is often referred to as Madiba, which is his clan name. It took me a while to figure out why people are always calling him that.) It also took a while for me to comprehend the magnitude of Madiba’s impact on the South African people, and on the consciousness and spirit of this country. I’ve been trying to think of a historical figure who has had a comparable impact in the United States. There isn’t one. Two years ago, when Madiba turned 91, his birthday was officially coined Mandela Day — a day to honor Nelson Mandela and perpetuate his legacy worldwide. Mandela Day is tomorrow, 18 July, but the country has been celebrating all weekend. Mandela Day is a big deal around here.