Nelson Mandela’s foundation is reaching out to the young, networked and socially conscious, bringing teens to a news conference Monday to announce it was launching a Twitter account.
Thando Sithebe, a 17-year-old Soweto high school student, called Mandela a “father to everyone” and said he would use his own Twitter and Facebook accounts — and MXit and The Grid as well — to urge his friends to mark Mandela Day, an international day devoted to public service that falls on Mandela’s July 18 birthday. Mandela, who turns 93 this year, has largely retired from public life.
The Nobel peace laureate spent 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid in South Africa. He became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 and is celebrated for his efforts to overcome racial divisions that have lingered since the end of white rule.
His foundation oversees development and aid work and houses documents by and about Mandela. It is known on Twitter as CentreOfMemory — spokesman Sello Hatang said names more directly associated with Mandela had already been taken by other organizations.
The foundation also has a Facebook page under its full name, the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Earlier this month, Google gave the foundation $1.25 million it will use to scan more than 10,000 of Mandela’s personal records. The database will be accessible for free to any Internet user.
While foundation officials have embraced the Internet as a way to spread Mandela’s message, they have reason to be wary of social network platforms. Moments before going live on Twitter and Facebook during Monday’s news conference, organizers said they had to take down nude photos posted by a prankster. And Hatang referred ruefully to false rumours of Mandela’s death spread on Twitter earlier this year.
“We hope that it will be used for good,” Hatang said as he launched the foundation’s Twitter account.
The young people gathered for the launch at the foundation’s Johannesburg offices appeared ready to take up the challenge Mandela set out when he laid the foundation for Mandela Day on his 90th birthday.
The theme of a London concert in his honour that year was “it’s in our hands.” Achmat Dangor, chief executive of the Mandela Foundation, recalled Mandela doing some editing when he made remarks that day.
“He said, ‘It’s in YOUR hands,’” Dangor said Monday. “He then made a pointed call on the next generation of leaders to take responsibility.”
Sithebe, the 17-yea-old who spoke at the Twitter launch, offered a list of suggestions for marking Mandela Day, from spending time with family to feeding the hungry.
Fellow 17-year-old Cassandra Collins said she was determined to do something to make the world better every day.
“We as a nation need to start with ourselves and change ourselves before we can change the world,” she said.