Mandela Day at Tembisa school

Caring: Mandela Day had Graça Machel telling pupils to focus on their studies. Picture: Thapelo Morebudi

Former president Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, yesterday reminded South Africans that the elder statesman had cared deeply about the plight and welfare of children.

“Madiba had a special love for children. He was a human being who cared deeply about the welfare of children. He built schools in rural areas so they could realise their potential. Smile at the fact that there’s someone who cares about you,” she said.

Machel was speaking at the launch of Mandela Day at the Dr Mathole Motshekga Primary School in Tembisa yesterday.

Machel spoke about how Madiba’s encounter with a group of homeless children during bitingly cold weather in Cape Town had touched him.

“He could not sleep after that. He was tossing and turning, thinking about those children,”

His care and love for poor children had prompted the iconic former President to set up the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. The Children’s Fund focuses on issues of poverty, orphans and child-headed homes.

Nelson Mandela foundation CEO Sello Hatang said the themes for this year’s event included shelter, food security and the environment.

Hatang said that it was important for communities to be involved in projects aimed at uplifting others.

“The school was built by the community. They did not wait for any one to come and do it for them. It tells you that we do more when we work together. We don’t have to depend on the state, or parents,” he said.

Hatang said the initiative was about encouraging society to do good work throughout the year.

“There’s no dignity if people have no shelter. We have been able to establish 90 libraries since we started,” he said.

A library was also opened at the school and books donated. Several actors from Isidingo were present at the event.

Machel said that it was a concern that some schools were still battling with literacy and numeracy.

“Your responsibility is to study hard and challenge yourselves. Some of our young people cannot read, write and count,” she said.

Mandela Day has been celebrated annually for the last five years on July 18, Madiba’s birthday.

Zodidi Mhlana