Gogos kick butt for Mandela Day


relate_bracelets_1_article A group of senior citizens recently competed in a beading competition with several celebrities in Cape Town. (Image: YouTube)

It takes less than an hour for elders of the Relate Bracelets to make a clear message: do not mess with us and our skill. Several celebrities had tried, for 67 minutes on 14 July, to keep up with these seniors in an annual “Bead Off” competition in Cape Town.

This was one of many events by South Africans for Nelson Mandela International Day. On the day, people show that they care about others by completing an act of kindness or volunteering for a good cause. The day – declared by the UN – is marked on 18 July, Madiba’s birthday, but the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Brand South Africa and other organisations have asked the country’s citizens to make every day of July a Mandela Day.

Mandela Day month was officially launched on 6 July.


This year marked the second annual Bead Off of Relate Bracelets. In the good-natured competition, Gogos show off their beading skill against celebrities and other well-known people. In 2014, they competed against Western Cape DHL Stormers’ Juan de Jongh, Nic Groom and Cheslin Kolbe.

The celebrities who took part this year included former Bafana Bafana star Matthew Booth, DJ Sox, rapper Jitsvinger, conservationist Braam Malherbe, and Kyla-Rose Smith of Freshlyground. The action was tweeted:

The online news portal Times Live reported that in the five years since it was founded, Relate Bracelets had raised more than R28-million for a variety of causes. Funds are earmarked for Jane Goodall Institute of South Africa, to rescue chimpanzees; Sorbet, to empower women; Lifestraw, to provide safe drinking water; and United Against Malaria, among others.

Relate is a South African not-for-profit social enterprise that creates social investment opportunities to change lives, explains the organisation. “The makers of our bracelets (ranging from the elderly who supplement their pensions, to refugees, to unemployed township youth) earn an income and are, where possible, upskilled to move beyond Relate,” it says.

“The retailers – which include Spur and Clicks – who partner to sell our bracelets, benefit from positive brand associations and increased store traffic.”


Neil Robinson, the head of Relate Bracelets, told online financial news portal Business Day Live that the organisation relied on corporates to sell its bracelets. It did not ask for hand-outs. “We decided on a no-donations policy,” Robinson said. “Donation doesn’t help build what we say we are about.

“Yes, we donate to causes, but we’d rather you buy bracelets. They give jobs, hope and salaries. I don’t believe in the begging bowl NGO model for us.”

Revenue from each R35 bracelet is split three ways: a third goes to the specific charity the bracelet represents, a third is used for operational and materials costs, and a third is split between salaries for the 300 beaders – who are mostly elderly women – remuneration and skills development for other Relate Bracelets staff, as well as for enterprise development.

Robinson wants to “franchise” Relate’s operations to Gauteng, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, especially because of the job-creation possibilities. “Our gogos in the township (who do the beading) – some have lost sons and daughters. They are looking after seven or eight grandkids and they get R1 500 [in state grants] a month. We double that,” he said.

“The hardships they face, we cannot comprehend them. When you look at the opulence in which some people live, that is surely wrong.

“My ultimate vision is that every employed South African buys one bracelet a year – each one costs R35. That’s 12 million taxpayers. We could raise a quarter of a billion rand for the causes. It sounds absurd, but those are the numbers.”

Relate Bracelets are also sold in the UK and Australia, and anywhere in the world online.

images/july2015/relate_bracelets_2_article Relate Bracelets are sold at retailers like Clicks and Spur, and anywhere in the world online. (Image: YouTube)


Brand South Africa has said that the spirit of active citizenship and volunteerism is the backbone that will make Nelson Mandela International Day a success and change South Africa for the better.

Play your Part for Madiba, its new campaign, is aimed at building a spirit of active citizenship among all South Africans, which is required to drive the implementation of the National Development Plan or Vision 2020.

The goal of the month-long initiative is to uphold the ideals, values and actions of Madiba. Madiba was Mandela’s clan name, and the name by which he was fondly known. His legacy encourages South Africans to play their part in the creation of positive change by building their communities and upholding a spirit of ubuntu and social cohesion.


On the Mandela Day website, people are encouraged to do things such as volunteering in different sectors, with shelter and infrastructure or awareness building given as examples.

For shelter and infrastructure, a volunteer could rebuild a tool shed or paint classrooms and school buildings. For awareness building, a volunteer could identify open manhole covers or drains in an area and report them to the local authorities.

Another activity seeking volunteers posted on the site is FoodBank South Africa, which will be holding a hamper packing day at its warehouses in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

Everyone is invited to enter a team for the meal packaging event and as a team see how many hampers they can pack, and how many lives they can touch in 67 minutes.

The site also gives ideas on volunteering. These include:

Paint classrooms and school buildings;

Organising a cake sale, car wash or garage sale for charity and donating the proceeds;

Donating sports equipment to a children’ shelter; and,

Taking an elderly person grocery shopping – they will appreciate your company and assistance.

Activities in Johannesburg in which volunteers can participate are: