The 18th of July marks 12 years since the United Nations declared Nelson Mandela’s birthday ‘Mandela Day’, a day where people are encouraged to do a good deed for 67 minutes.

The hour and seven minutes symbolise the 67 years that Mandela fought for human rights, and over the years, many individuals and corporates have given 67 minutes of their time to help the less fortunate.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has called on South Africans to ‘make every day a Mandela Day’, yet according to a 2021 Afrobarometer report, only one in four people on the continent are active members of voluntary associations or community groups. 

The report also found that those who live in rural areas are more civically engaged than their urban counterparts, and older people are more likely to volunteer than the youth. We all want to see real change in our country, but this change won’t happen overnight. 

How do we get those who live in our cities, our youth, and those who are not civically engaged to do more once the 67 minutes is up? To create meaningful change requires regularly taking the time to make a difference. But where do we find the time to benefit others – to embrace ubuntu? I believe the answer lies in micro-volunteering.

Micro-volunteering is based on the idea that we are more likely to give of our time if it’s easy to do, convenient for us, and for a short period. Mandela Day is a form of micro-volunteering, but the 67 minutes is just once a year – successful, sustained micro-volunteering involves even shorter bursts of time, and on a more regular basis. 

For example, environmental micro-volunteering could mean picking up litter for 10 minutes during a quick, weekly walk around the neighbourhood. Or it could mean deciding to only buy milk in gable top cartons instead of plastic. From an environmental perspective, these small, individual actions can have a significant collective, big impact.

In South Africa, we generate 108 million tonnes of waste each year, 90 percent of which is not being recycled and is dumped at landfills. 

Drinking milk from gable top cartons may seem like a drop in the ocean, but carton-packaged products contain approximately 70 percent less plastic than PET bottles, (pack size depending) and are 100 percent recyclable. Gable top cartons are comprised of separate layers that are separated during the recycling process. 

This separation process yields two derivatives, one being fibre and the other being polyethylene – both are recycled into other products like roof tiles, corrugated boxes, and pallets. Carton packaging is also lightweight and easy to stack, which makes it more carbon friendly to transport. 

To make a difference? Just put empty cartons in a paper recycling bin (or speak to your informal recycling collector to see if they collect cartons), and the rest is taken care of.  

Mandela Day is indeed a form of micro-volunteering, and I’d argue that so is deciding to buy milk in gable top cartons. Embracing ubuntu doesn’t mean you have to join an association. It can be as simple as talking to your neighbourhood recycler. 

There are important initiatives to get behind this Mandela Day, with many being virtual due to the third wave of Covid-19. But we don’t have to wait until Nelson Mandela’s birthday to become active citizens; we don’t even have to do it for 67 minutes. 

Mandela said, “You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself” – and I believe that being the change we want to see lies in sustained, tiny steps.

By Raymond Dube, Nampak Liquid Cartons managing director