UN Member States on Monday gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to observe Nelson Mandela International Day, a celebration for everyone to take action and inspire change in their communities.
The UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mandela, the first democratically-elected President of South Africa, and the country’s first Black leader, died in December 2013 at age 95.
The annual commemoration on July 18, his birthday, recognises his contribution to the culture of peace and freedom globally.
Mandela – affectionately known as “Madiba”, his Xhosa clan name – fought against the racist apartheid system in his homeland, and for equality and freedom for all people.
Abdulla Shahid, President of the UN General Assembly, recalled that Mandela also advocated for democracy, gender equality, the rights of children and young people, and for protecting the environment.
“Madiba’s fight against apartheid, was in fact a fight for a better world, in which the freedom, justice and dignity of all were respected.
“He called for peace, social justice, equality and human understanding throughout his life,” he said.
Delivering the keynote address, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, said the life and legacy of Mandela must be celebrated every day, particularly as younger generations may not be familiar with his leadership.
“Let’s talk with our children about what he stood for. Let’s seek out what we have in common, empower all people to reclaim our democracies, and harness the light of Mandela’s memory to illuminate the way forward,” he said.
Prince Harry attended the ceremony alongside his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
He said that he treasured a photo of his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Mandela, which was given to him by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid leader who died in December.
In it, Mandela was beaming, in spite of having endured “the very worst of humanity, vicious racism and state-sponsored brutality”, and spending 27 years in prison.
Harry said Mandela was still able to see the goodness in humanity, not because he was blind to the ugliness and injustices of the world, but because he knew we could overcome them.
“In our own time, a time of global uncertainty and division, when it’s all too easy to look around and feel anger or despair, I’ve been inspired to go back to Mandela’s writings for insight into how this could be – how he could experience so much darkness and always manage to find the light,” he said.
Harry listed some of the current global challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, the weaponisation of lies and disinformation, and the “horrific” war in Ukraine. saying, “we are witnessing a global assault on democracy and freedom – the cause of Mandela’s life”.
Citing the non-profit Freedom House, he said the world has grown less free for more than a decade and a half, and the consequences are being felt most deeply in Africa.
The pandemic, the war, and inflation have left the continent mired in a fuel and food crisis, and a time when the Horn of Africa is enduring its longest drought in nearly half a century.
Describing this as a “pivotal moment”, where multiple converging crises have generated endless injustices, people everywhere thus have a choice to make.
He said: “We can grow apathetic, succumb to anger, or yield to despair, surrendering to the gravity of what we’re up against.
“Or we can do what Mandela did, every single day inside that 7-by-9-foot prison cell on Robben Island – and every day outside of it, too,” Harry said.
“We can find meaning and purpose in the struggle. We can wear our principles as armour. Heed the advice Mandela once gave his son, to ‘never give up the battle even in the darkest hour.’ And find hope where we have the courage to seek it.”
Harry also spoke about his special relationship with Africa, saying he had always found hope there.
“In fact, for most of my life, it has been my lifeline, a place where I have found peace and healing time and time again.
“It’s where I’ve felt closest to my mother and sought solace after she died, and where I knew I had found a soulmate in my wife,” he said.
He said that much of his work was based on the continent “because, despite continued hardship, there are people across Africa who embody Mandela’s spirit and ideals – building on the progress he helped make possible”. (NAN) (