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Minister Edna Molewa’s speech at the informal Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly to commemorate Nelson Mandela International Day

New York, 18 July 2018

President of the General Assembly,
Ladies and gentlemen,


On behalf of the Republic of South Africa, and President Cyril Ramaphosa – it is an honour to deliver this tribute on what would have been the 100th birthday of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela; a man who meant so many things to so many people. To all of us gathered here in this Assembly, but also to countless other men, women and children around the world.

The life of this legendary statesman embodied the values that we as the United Nations hold dear; the values of tolerance, of respect for diversity, and of commitment to the betterment of one’s fellow man.

Nelson Mandela believed that all of us, no matter who we are, can make a difference. He believed that every man, woman and child should take responsibility to change the world for the better.

It is a fitting tribute to his exemplary life that in South Africa we are leading a campaign called Thuma Mina – which translates to “Send Me”. It is a campaign that encourages all South Africans to stand up and say: “We want to be part of this bright common future, and we are prepared to do our part”. Around our country today, people from all walks of life are taking part in public service, as are many others around the world.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918.

His birth name, given to him by his father, was Rolihlahla, an isiXhosa name that means “pulling the branch of a tree”, but colloquially it means “troublemaker”.

Growing up hearing the elders’ stories of his ancestors’ valour during the wars of resistance, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.

His individual and the collective struggle and sacrifices of the anti-apartheid movement brought down apartheid after many years. He led South Africa out of the cycle of violence and towards a peaceful transition to democracy.

As much as we laud his and others’ contribution to the struggle for our liberation, we are ever mindful that for Nelson Mandela, and for the African National Congress (ANC), his political home and the party to which he remained dedicated throughout his life – liberation was not the end or the road, but just the beginning.

Nelson Mandela’s legacy cannot be divorced from the urgent and pressing need to realize true emancipation and that is economic liberation. Ensuring that all have a share in the nation’s wealth, and that all benefit from the opportunities it presents, is the essence of the Freedom Charter that was the foundation of our Constitution in South Africa. It must be the imperative that drives us as nations of the world.

So long as the gap between rich and poor remains so stark: so long as only a few in the world enjoy prosperity and human rights and the majority do not; so long as only the few have access to educational opportunities whilst the majority are denied them – we will not have realized the society and world Nelson Mandela worked for.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) as contained in Agenda 2030 are the these noble objectives that we strive towards. This ambitious global agenda sets us upon a new path towards an egalitarian society where every man, woman and child is given an equal opportunity to develop, to thrive and to better their prospects. Taking them forward to the best of our ability, realizing as we do the interconnectedness of humankind; is the best and most fitting tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela.

Tata Madiba recognised that there had been no easy road to freedom. He said: “We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.”

His message of tolerance, respect, unity and reconciliation has resonated across the world. Yet despite the deep wounds caused by apartheid, he stated, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.”

His qualities of humility, forgiveness and compassion, his values of tolerance, dialogue and reconciliation and his dedication to the service of humanity, are sorely needed in the world today.

Creating a space for dialogue in order to turn his enemies into partners to build a common future for South Africa was one of his greatest achievements.

In the complex world in which we live, there is an urgent need to find common ground and turn our enemies into partners to address our many global challenges. An unstable and insecure world would threaten the very progress we have made collectively as the United Nations.

Our great leader had advice for the leaders of the world. He stated that they “will have to give clear and decisive leadership towards a world of tolerance and respect for difference, and an uncompromising commitment to peaceful solutions of conflicts and disputes.”

For is it us in the United Nations, who must assume a special responsibility for our words and actions in shaping a world free of fear and want.As we celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela, we need to move beyond words and reflections. We need to take over the baton and be the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

We must recommit to the ideal of a just, peaceful, prosperous, inclusive and fair world, and revive the values that Nelson Mandela stood for.

We must demonstrate mutual respect, tolerance, understanding and reconciliation in our relations; which is the cornerstone of the UN system.

Perhaps above all, we must always remember that it is our individual actions that count most. We too must stand up and ask: what is it that I can do to make this a better world?

At a time when we so often ask: what is it that we can do to make an impact and be of service to our communities, to our countries and to humanity at large; we must not hesitate to say: yes, I am here, I am ready. Send Me – Thuma Mina.

I thank you.


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