New York

09 July 2018

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks on Nelson Mandela Centenary [as prepared for delivery]

Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
I am honored to attend this celebration of the life and achievements of one of the greatest leaders of our time.
 
Madiba would have been 100 years old this year.
 
His life and work embodied the ideal of a democratic, free and equal society.
 
It is a universal ideal the United Nations strives to achieve together with its Member States.
 
I was honored to deliver the annual lecture organized by his Foundation last year and also to have been invited to champion the Festival being organized in tribute to him by Global Citizen. My only regret is that in life I was never able to meet him.
 
His legacy has left a profound mark on my life and those people around the world who have found inspiration in his life.
 
A Summit celebrating his legacy is being organized at the United Nations this September and only last week in Mauritania a major street was named after him during the African Union Summit.
 
During the lecture I delivered last year, I recounted, how, as a girl of 11, I asked my parents if we could visit South Africa.
It was my father’s sad duty to open my eyes to the depth of injustice under apartheid the country then represented.
 
We could not go, he explained, because we were a mixed-race family, and such a union was illegal down there.
 
Madiba devoted his life to overturning the injustice of institutionalized racism.
 
He did so despite the sacrifice and suffering that he knew would be visited on him by the apartheid system.
 
He risked execution and endured years of imprisonment and sacrifice for his beliefs.
 
He may have lost his freedom but he never allowed the authorities to strip him of his self-respect and dignity.
 
This is the man we remember today -- a man of towering achievement who worked tirelessly for peace, equitable development and human dignity.
 
His autobiographies, “A Long Walk to Freedom”, and “Nelson Mandela: The Struggle Is My Life”, -- and now his prison letters -- are testaments to his enduring hope and fight for freedom, equality, democracy and justice.
 
His sacrifice not only served the people of his nation, but everyone around the world.
 
Rarely has one person in history done so much to stir people’s dreams and move them to action.
 
That struggle for equality and justice continues.
 
Madiba’s legacy lights the way as a beacon of hope.
 
Today, let us commit to build on Nelson Mandela’s example of selflessness, tolerance and sense of shared purpose.
 
His vision and steadfast commitment to justice, equity and human rights is a road map for us all.
 
There is still so much we can do to end hunger and eliminate poverty in all its forms.
 
We must build healthy populations with access to robust health care facilities.
 
We must place quality education within the reach of all children especially our girls.
 
And we must empower women and girls.
 
We must build communities that are resilient to climate change.
 
And we must also do more to help migrants, refugees and the internally displaced.
 
To paraphrase the famous saying, nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.
 
As we pay homage to the legend that is Nelson Mandela, let us remember his steadfast belief in justice and equality for all, and how he showed that one person can make such a great difference.
 
Let us all continue to be inspired by his life and never cease working to build a better world for all.
 
Thank you.