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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's remarks to media on death of Nelson Mandela

New York, 5 December 2013

I am profoundly saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela was a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration.

Many around the world were greatly influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom. He touched our lives in deeply personal ways.

At the same time, no one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations.

Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us - if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity.

His moral force was decisive in dismantling the system of apartheid.

Remarkably, he emerged from 27 years of detention without rancor, determined to build a new South Africa based on dialogue and reconciliation.

I was privileged to meet Nelson Mandela in February 2009. When I thanked him for his life’s work, he insisted the credit belonged to others.

I will never forget his selflessness and deep sense of shared purpose.

On behalf of the United Nations, I extend my deepest condolences to Nelson Mandela’s family, the people of South Africa, and indeed our global family.

Let us continue each day to be inspired by Nelson Mandela’s lifelong example to keep working for a better and more just world.

Q: Secretary-General, could you recall perhaps your first encounter or the various encounters you might have had with Nelson Mandela? What was that like on a personal level?

SG: When I met him in his residence, I was deeply touched and moved and inspired by what he said. When I praised him for his lifelong contributions and struggle to end apartheid, he said that, no, it’s not only me – there are hundreds and hundreds of known, unknown people, who have contributed to the ending of apartheid. I was so touched. It [has] stuck [with] me since then – the sense of human decency, such humility and humbleness, such a great man of the world who was saying that it was not only him, that there were known and unknown, hundreds and hundreds of people. He repeated this two, three times. Then, I again in the course of my dialogue, I told him, well, President Mandela, we are grateful for your contribution, for [your] lifelong contribution to make this world just and to end apartheid. He said again, repeated same thing, no, it’s not only me. There are hundreds and hundreds of known and unknown people who made this happen. That was a moment of deep inspiration for me. This is [something] I’m still keeping, and I’ve been speaking to many of our colleagues – look, this is what such a great man said. This is really a sense of human decency and humility, and I’m deeply grateful for what he has left during his lifetime to make this world just and fair and equal for everybody. Thank you.

Q: Is there any single message that Nelson Mandela has made throughout the years that run particularly true with you and that you think applies today in Africa and throughout the rest of the world? Because one of the things he often said was that the whole cause of freedom was still a work in progress.

SG: Africa and many countries in the world during the last century and many centuries before have suffered from this colonial rule and abuse and violations of human rights and human dignity. Only because of such great men like Nelson Mandela is it possible that, particularly people in Africa and elsewhere, are able to enjoy freedom and human dignity. But I’m still very much humbled. If we think [of the] current state of the world, where still many people, particularly vulnerable groups, women and girls, particularly in conflict areas, whose human rights are totally abused and violated, we have to learn from the wisdom and determination and commitment of President Mandela to make this world better for all. That is why I really wanted to express my deepest admiration and respect to President Mandela and the people of South Africa and all people of Africa. Thank you very much. Thank you.