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Simon Atkinson

Deputy Head of Mission, Cape Town

Part of UK in South Africa

18th July 2013 Cape Town, South Africa

Celebrating Mandela Day

A blog by Nick Monkhouse, British High Commission Pretoria.

Today, 18 July 2013, is Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. It is also Nelson Mandela Day, recognised by the UN and around the world as a day which seeks to inspire people to take action to help change the world for the better.


As South Africa and the world wishes Nelson Mandela – lovingly known as ‘Madiba’, his tribal name, in South Africa – a speedy recovery from illness, it is a fantastic gesture that across the world people are honouring him and his strong moral values and belief in community by volunteering to improve their communities.

No one in history epitomises freedom as strongly as Madiba, so it seems appropriate that Mandela Day says that individuals and organisations are free to participate in the day as they see fit (within an ethical framework of “service to one’s fellow human”). However, the Mandela Day does suggest that people devote 67 minutes of their time – one minute for every year of Madiba’s public service, which began in 1942 when he started to campaign for human rights of every South African.

One of my first and favourite experiences of my time in South Africa was celebrating Mandela Day in 2011. I organised – via Shaka Sisulu’s youth volunteering body Cheesekids and community leader Linda Twala – for around 30 members of the UK government in South Africa to join residents of Alexandra Township in Johannesburg to paint Madiba’s old home in Alexandra and beautify it with some potted plants.

Hundreds of locals gave us an extremely warm welcome and a carnival atmosphere (after all it was a birthday party!), while a local band played and we all did our 67 minutes. It was a magical way to honour Mandela’s birthday.

This year I am spending my 67 minutes with some of my colleagues by delivering books and holding reading circles at Thoyandou Primary School in Pretoria. Other colleagues are also packing party boxes for children and our High Commissioner is hoping to work in a soup kitchen, at an event organised by Cheesekids. For photos of our activity this year, you can go on to our flickr page

What are you up to for your 67 minutes? I’d love to hear what you are doing.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy, I recommend visiting the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory. The UK provided £1 million to the establishment of the centre, which chronicles the life and times of Nelson Mandela and convenes dialogue around critical social issues.

It’s also full of interesting videos, audio and images. I used it to search for my favourite Nelson Mandela quote:

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

What’s yours?

Happy birthday Madiba.

About Simon Atkinson

Simon Atkinson was born and spent the first 9 years of his life in New Zealand, before his family moved to the less leafy suburbs of Wallington, South London. After…

Simon Atkinson was born and spent the first 9 years of his life in New Zealand, before his family moved to the less leafy suburbs of Wallington, South London. After university at Leeds and 4 years teaching English and working for NGOs in Europe and South America, Simon joined the UK Foreign Office. His first overseas posting was in India, where he was a political officer covering issues like counter-proliferation and the relationship between India and its neighbours. He was also the Commonwealth Games Attaché during Delhi’s 2010 Games.

Cape Town is his second and current posting. His role here is dual hatted – as Deputy Consul General, he supports the Consul General manage the office, and as the Head of the Political Team, he covers the whole gambit of South African policy (though being based in Cape Town means this is heavily focused on domestic policies and Parliament).

Simon is married to Gina, who also works for the Foreign Office. They enjoy being in South Africa, as both a fascinating country to cover politically and wonderful place to live, allowing them to pursue their passion for the outdoors and perfect their ability to ‘braai’ (not that they’re under any illusion about how often they’ll get to demonstrate this skill once they return to the UK)!