Charities and volunteer opportunities: How to help the helpers this Mandela Day

17 Jul 2023
To commemorate the life and deeds of Nelson Mandela, in 2009 the United Nations declared his birthday, July 18, Nelson Mandela Day. It's an opportunity to celebrate and pay tribute to Mandela's lifelong fight for democracy, reconciliation and social justice in South Africa. Every year on Mandela Day, ordinary citizens are encouraged to devote 67 minutes of their day to charitable work, symbolic of the 67 years that Nelson Mandela served South Africa as an activist, prisoner and later as South Africa's first democratically elected president. 

However, it's important to consider whether our donations truly benefit the intended recipients. Sometimes, the items we donate, such as books and clothing, end up being unusable or burdensome for charities.

A post by Gail Scott Wilson on Instagram (@dizzylexa) shed light on this issue (July 2023). Wilson visited a local charity store and found an immense pile of books that filled a room, but were slowly being eaten by rats. It's a disturbing thought in a city that has so much need, and yet, as the conversation developed, it became clear that often charity organisations are handed a multitude of items that cannot be reused (yes, even books) and they may lack the resources to sort through and distribute these items, leading to damage and storage problems.

Experts we contacted emphasised the importance of asking first, and ensuring that the chosen donation recipients can use the items as intended. It was suggested to visit the outlet first. 

Derek Smith, from the Read Educational Trust, explained in the comments on the Gail's post that the lack of financial and time resources required to assess, organise and distribute donated items often exceeds the cost of purchasing new ones. 

We reached out to Khensani Mohlatlole, a content creator and advocate for sustainable fashion and practises, for advice. Khensani emphasised donating usable clothing, which means washing everything beforehand, because many charities and thrift shops lack the resources to clean donated items. It's also essential to carefully consider the quality of clothing and other items being donated. “A great thing to remember is that if you wouldn’t wear it, why should someone else,” Khensani advises.

Regarding books, Khensani suggests thinking about what your school librarian would say before donating them. Textbooks and schoolbooks should be donated directly to schools to provide students with free access. Additionally, it's wise to enquire if your local public library accepts donations.

To truly make a difference this Mandela Day, it's crucial to donate with clear direction and support ongoing campaigns run by reputable charities, so here's our list of charities and initiatives to ensure your contribution celebrating Nelson Mandela is meaningful and sustainable.

If you want to help the helpers, here's a look at some organisations you can support.

#67000 litres challenge by Chefs with Compassion

Chefs tackling hunger, one litre of soup at a time. Photo: Chefs with Compassion via Facebook. 

Chefs with Compassion is challenging you to make 10 litres of soup in 67 minutes (or more if needed) any time over the weekend of Mandela Day from Sat, Jul 15 to Tue, Jul 18 and donate it to a beneficiary of your choice. Launched during the early days of the hard lockdown of 2020, the Chefs with Compassion movement sees chefs and restaurants joining forces with local NPOs to tackle hunger in the best way they know how. The organisation rescues foodstuffs from the Joburg Fresh Produce Market that is about to be discarded and distributes this to kitchens for chefs to cook into healthy and nutritious meals. Registration is via Quicket with a participation fee of R67. Find out more here

67 Blankets at Eastgate

67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day. Photo: Eastgate shopping centre.

An assortment of blankets is on display at Eastgate's Strelitzia Court (near Pick n Pay Clothing) until Tue, Jul 18. Shoppers are invited to admire these stunning creations and contribute to the project in various ways. You can donate wool, hooks, or needles, donate completed blankets, squares, and scarves, or partner with a skilled knitter who lacks the means to purchase materials. Additionally, crochet classes will be available for those interested in learning this intricate craft. Find out more here

Build-a-backpack with Rosebank Management District and Rosebank Homeless Association

Build-a-backpack for Mandela Day. Photo: Rosebank Management District. 

The Immaculata Shelter, located at the Rosebank Catholic Church and managed by the Rosebank Homeless Association, is a rare shelter specifically catering to the homeless in Johannesburg's northern suburbs. During July, in partnership with Rosebank Management District, the association has organised a build-a-backpack campaign for unhoused individuals who lack a place to call home and must carry their belongings with them. You can contribute by providing them with a durable backpack filled with essential items. These include clothing items such as shoes, socks, beanies and toiletries like bath soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. Items like a bath towel, blanket, and laundry detergent are also welcome. You can drop off your donation at the charity box at the Cradock Avenue entrance of Rosebank Mall. This initiative will continue until Mon, Jul 31. Find out more here.

Dlala Nje and House Mazibuko Foundation: Winter Drive

Community matters. Photo: Dlala Nje via Facebook. 

Dlala Nje and the House Mazibuko Foundation are holding a Winter Drive this Mandela Day to provide essentials to those in need like food, blankets and care packages. To help job-seekers, they will also offer haircuts and printing out CVs. In the name of sustainability, they're currently getting local salons and barbershops on board to offer their services as needed when individuals have interviews, and they hope to join forces with Hillbrow Public Bathhouse, an inner-city organisation that provides shower facilities. For community members with young children, Dlala Nje plans to provide child-care services, allowing parents to attend interviews without worrying about their children's well-being. To assist Dlala Nje, find out more here.

Fight period poverty with Ignite Fitness and the MENstruation Foundation

 Join the Unity Challenge this Mandela Day at Ignite Fitness. Photo: Ignite Fitness. 

In South Africa, three in 10 girls miss one week of school due to not having access to menstuation products. Boutique gym chain Ignite Fitness has organised a Unity Challenge this Mandela Day open to both members and non-members, where participants can form teams of two and compete in the event for a chance to be victorious. The winning team will have the opportunity to personally deliver the collected sanitary products to remarkable young women. This prize holds more value than any monetary measure, as it represents the impact we can have on those who are less fortunate – an important lesson for us all to remember. Find out more here

Free for All Mandela Day at Constitution Hill

Free for All Mandela Day at Constitution Hill. Photo: Supplied. 

Clean City SA and Clean-up and Recycle Week SA are teaming up for Mandela Day at Constitution Hill on Tue, Jul 18 from 08:00-16:00. The event aims to address the connection between food security and climate change. Participants will engage in activities such as clean-ups, planting food crops, and indigenous trees at various locations including child development centers, schools, homeless shelters, and NGO facilities. 

Frida Hartley Women’s Shelter in Yeoville

Photo: Frida Hartley Shelter via Facebook. 

The Frida Hartley Shelter in Yeoville has a maximum capacity of 40 women and children per month, however to sustain their operations, a daily amount of just under R50 per person is needed. When women first arrive at the shelter, they often have few possessions, and the non-profit shelt is always looking for donations of adult and children's clothing, blankets, nappies, toiletries, sanitary products and cleaning agents. They also need corporate support in the form of job training programmes, internships and employment opportunities. To learn more about their life-changing work and how you can contribute, visit their website here.

Woz'ofunda reading session at Lebo's Soweto Backpackers 

Storytelling in the park. Photo: Lebo's Soweto Backpackers via Facebook. 

Have an educational and vibrant Nelson Mandela Day with a Special Woz'ofunda reading session in the Lebo's Soweto Backpackers park with children's author Zanele Ndlovu. Bring the little ones for reading by Ndlovu, author of  uMakhweyane uHadi as well as a performance on the stage, end off the day with soup and book donations from 15:00-17:00 on Tue, Jul 18. Email them at for more information. 

Care for the LGBTQIA+ community with Mindfu(l) and The Fruit Basket

Photo: The Fruit Basket via Facebook. 

Youth-centered mental health initiative, Mindfu(l) Organisation launched their "Its Giving Mindfu(l)" initiative. This effort aims to promote care and support for communities and causes that align with the organisation's values. To celebrate Mandela Day, the Mindfu(l) community is running a campaign to raise funds and collect goods for The Fruit Basket. The Fruit Basket is dedicated to protecting and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community in Johannesburg, particularly LGBTQIA+ refugees, asylum seekers, and forced migrants in South Africa. They are currently assisting an increase in queer refugees due to Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill. You can contribute by donating money or items such as canned food, toiletries, and clothing. Find out information about banking details and donations here. The deadline for collections is Fri, Jul 21 and the Mindfu(l) team will deliver the donations on Sat, Jul 22

Sustainable tourism with Hero Holidays

Be a helping hand on your holiday. Hero Holidays via Facebook. 

Join in on community projects with Hero Holidays, where they help to educate and establish strong foundations for children. While we are dedicated to hard work, we also believe in the importance of leisure. During your free time, you can embark on a thrilling safari excursion to witness the renowned "BIG Five" in their natural habitat. The minimum volunteering duration is 2 weeks. They prioritise sustainable tourism practices, ensuring that your activities have a positive impact on the environment and local communities, minimising your ecological footprint and promoting responsible travel. Find out more about how you can have a holiday with an impact on their website here

Pass on your skills Johannesburg Organisation of Services to the Homeless (JOSH)

Johannesburg Organisation of Services to the Homeless. Photo: JOSH. 

JOSH is seeking individuals or businesses who are willing to contribute to the training of homeless individuals in various projects, including but not limited to cooking and hospitality, carpentry, computer IT, construction, gardening, and business skills. Additionally, they appreciate donations of cooking utensils, kitchen appliances, gardening equipment, computer items, and carpentry tools. By participating in this initiative, you can make a significant impact in empowering the homeless community and improving their prospects for a better future. Find out more on their website.

Spread kindess with Ladles of Love

Photo: Ladles of Love via Facebook. 

Making a difference in the lives of little children in early childhood development centre in underprivileged communities. Join Ladles of Love in activities such as crafting, collating, packing, creating, or planting items specifically for these children. They will provide all the necessary materials, they simply ask for your time and dedication while working towards building a better world for the youth. Ticket prices are R150 for adults and R100 for pensioners and students, find out more here.

Paint the creche at Kwa Mai Mai with Curiocity

Help Curiocity paint the Kwa Mai Mai creche. Photo: Supplied. 

In commemorating the 10 years anniversary of Mandela's passing, join the Curiocity team on a clean-up and paint drive at the Kwa Mai Mai creche starting at the Curiocity in Maboneng at 9:00 on Tue Jul 18. You can help out on the day or make a donation of paint, brushes, stationary, cleaning materials, as well as the skills of videography and photography would be greatly appreciated for this initiative. Find out more here. 

Support the Bekezela Creche volunteers

The three volunteers of the Bekezela Creche. Photo: Bekezela Creche Support Team via BackaBuddy.

Established in March 2022 in the Bekezela informal settlement in Newtown, the Bekezela Creche is run by three volunteers from the community. Teachers, Melphy Silwana and Funeka Mbadu, and caretaker Justin Ngozo, have been running the facility out of their own pockets since its inception, currently providing 30 children under the age of seven with access to early childhood development and safety from the violence in the community. Support them this Mandela Day with a monetary donation to help them continue creating a positive impact in the community. Find out and donate here.



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