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Nelson Mandela: 'Synonymous with the fight for justice and equality'

Affectionately known as Madiba, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the General Assembly meeting celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day – officially commemorated on Sunday – that he “embodied the highest aspirations of the United Nations and the human family”.   

‘Blurring the truth’ 

Hate speech and the denial of facts are becoming “mainstream in liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes alike”, Ms. Mohammed said, “blurring the truth, questioning science and undermining democratic institutions”.   

She pointed to an alarming trend that “people with little or no knowledge of historical facts are infected by the virus of disinformation and distortion and embracing violent ideologies”.   

And COVID-19 has intensified this, rolling back years of progress in the global fight against poverty and injustice, leaving the marginalized and disenfranchised suffering the most, and often being blamed for problems they did not cause, she said. 

It is our individual responsibility to follow Madiba’s example of humility, forgiveness and compassion — Deputy UN chief 

People of African descent, Indigenous, ethnic or religious minorities – and those who have fled their homes as refugees – bear the brunt of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance, according to the UN official. 

“These are the ills that Nelson Mandela stood up against to create his lasting legacy”, she said.  

Decade of Peace 

In September 2018, the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit at UN Headquarters gathered government and civil society representatives who committed to redoubling efforts for a prosperous, inclusive and fair world and declared 2019 to 2028 the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace.  

“It is our individual responsibility to follow Madiba’s example of humility, forgiveness and compassion, while advocating for democracy and peace throughout the world”, said the deputy UN chief.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the vital importance of human solidarity and unity, values championed and exemplified by Madiba in his lifelong fight for justice”.   

And with a role for everyone, she urged the gathering to be inspired by Madiba’s message that “each of us can make a difference in promoting peace, human rights, harmony with nature and dignity for all”.  

A personal note  

The Deputy Secretary-General shared that ever since her youth, when she was trying to find her path, Mr. Mandela had been a personal inspiration.  

“As we reflect on Madiba’s life and work, let us each stand up and be counted. Let us borrow a leaf from his stubborn optimism in the human endeavour”, she concluded. “Let us all honour his call to action and be energized by his legacy”.  

Madiba’s ideals 

General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said that in life and legacy, Nelson Mandela advocated for “the inherent dignity and equality of people”; both within and between nations, regardless of race, nationality, or belief – universal values, set out in the UN Charter and human rights treaties.  

As the Assembly is tasked with upholding and protecting these values, he said it is only right to “convene here today, to celebrate, promote these ideals, and to honour Nelson Mandela”. 

Mr. Bozkir said the Mandela name was “synonymous with the fight for justice and equality”, which must be remembered when considering the plight of 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, women and girls subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, and the intolerance and racial discrimination that threaten to erode the progress he fought so hard to advance.  

“As an international community, we must take collective action. For we will not achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda whilst racism and discrimination persist”, said the Assembly President. 

‘Act in the spirit of Madiba’ 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great suffering for individuals and nations, putting health systems under immense strain, creating an unparalleled socio-economic crisis and hijacking our development trajectory, said Mr. Bozkir.  

In recovering, human rights must be upheld for everyone, everywhere and multilateral efforts galvanized for fair and equitable vaccine access for all, he added. 

“Put simply, we must act in the spirit of Madiba, if we are to build back better”, concluded the Assembly President. 

Enhance lives of others 

Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa told the meeting that “systemic racism has had a pernicious effect” on communities everywhere. 

Reminding the Assembly that Mr. Mandela used the Swahili world ubunti to explain that “to be free is not merely to cast off ones chains” but to live in a way that enhances the lives of others, she offered the additional phrase, Mimi ni kwa sababu wewe ni – which translates as “I am because you are.” 

“We are all connected, and that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others”, she said. 

President Nelson Mandela addresses the 49th session of the General Assembly October 1994.

UN Photo/Evan Schneider
President Nelson Mandela addresses the 49th session of the General Assembly October 1994.

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