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Monday, December 18, 2023



I have to explain from the start that I am not entirely unbiased in my comments, as I am one of the longest-serving Ambassadors for 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day. However, I now write under my artSMart hat and will try to be as fair-minded as possible. – Caroline Smart

In December 2013, Zelda La Grange (PA to the late Nelson Mandela) challenged her friend, well-known South African arts personality Carolyn Steyn, to make 67 blankets as a contribution to Mandela Day. Steyn accepted the challenge with her usual energy before realizing that the task was impossible to create on her own, so called for help from friends.

The first person to respond was Dr Ismail Mahomed, well-known arts administrator, currently the director of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who immediately encouraged his contacts to support the project which became known as 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day. All the people who use their crochet or knitting skills are known as KnitWits!

Mahomed says: “It reminds me of the spirit of Madiba – an extraordinary man – who, even under the gloominess of a standard prison-issued grey blanket in a cold concrete dark cell on Robben Island, could still dream in technicolour.”

(Left: Dame Carolyn Steyn, founder of 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day)

Carolyn Steyn has been lauded for her creation and many awards include the Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Mérite (an equivalent of a knighthood) from the President of the French Republic awards.

Steyn explains the aim of the organisation: “67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day pledges to keep thousands less fortunate warmer, over all the winters to come, in the name of our beloved Nelson Mandela. Stitch by stitch his legacy lives on in each blanket lovingly created by our volunteer KnitWits for Madiba with their own two hands. “Making every day a Mandela Day.”


Ten years later, a beautiful publication titled 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day. The Knitting and Crochet Revolution has been created to cover the incredible growth of this organisation. There are now “KnitWits” reaching right around South Africa as well as abroad.

The 224-page book is in true coffee table style, but this one has a fantastic message. Each page celebrates the organisation and its achievements over the last ten years. There are beautiful photographs of the many events handled by 67 Blankets including the four which won Guinness World Records.

Among other important achievements was when Kismet Yarns launched their 300 balls of 67 Blankets wool which were a great help to KnitWits countrywide. An impressive event was the one in 2021 which created the world’s largest Springbok (Bokke) Blanket using 41,310 balls of wool, 2754 individual blanket and covering 7,050 m2

(Above: An example of one of the many events where huge layouts of blankets give an idea of the enormity of the project. This layout was held in Durban at the Holy Family College with its tremendous views of the city)

Another important achievement has been the involvement of prisoners in correctional centres to contribute positively to society.

Graça Machel (Nelson Mandela’s widow) praises the organisation: “I want to salute everyone, and all of you who were touched by this message of knitting a blanket for a child, the elderly, or for anyone who needs it in cold times.”

67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day. The Knitting and Crochet Revolution is on sale at Exclusive Books for R1,167.00 … and is worth every cent! ISBN No.:978-0-6397-3863-5. – Caroline Smart