Change, Growth and Hope: Nelson Mandela Day

Delivered during the First Annual Nelson Mandela Distinguished Lecture in Bangkok, Thailand

Your Excellency, Ms. Robina Marks,
Ambassador of South Africa

Your Excellency, Mr. Anand Panyarachun,
Former Prime Minister of Thailand

Ladies and gentlemen,

In November 2009, the United Nations declared 18 July to be Nelson Mandela Day - a global call to action celebrating the idea that every person has the power to make a difference, that every individual can change the world.

There is, of course, a note of sadness in our first commemorations of this day since Nelson Mandela’s passing, but I am truly honoured to join you for this inaugural Nelson Mandela Distinguished Lecture.

I would like to congratulate Ambassador Marks and her team for taking the initiative to establish an annual lecture series as a very fitting tribute to Madiba’s life.

There is, I believe, an unusual plant which grows in some of the driest parts of South Africa. It is known, in English, as the resurrection bush. What makes it remarkable is that, for years, it seems dry, shrivelled, and without life. At the first sign of rain, however, it unfolds and grows – green and powerful.

This is the power of unexpected change, of unpredicted growth and of unforeseen hope.

It was the same power which drove the impact of Nelson Mandela’s life – living for decades through the drought of discrimination, repression and seeming-despair, but holding within his heart the seeds of change.

When allowed to grow it nourished, in turn, the democracy, freedom, equality, diversity, reconciliation and respect for which South Africa has become so deservedly renowned.

Just a few weeks ago, the General Assembly established the United Nations Nelson Mandela Prize - celebrating the inspiration of his life to people in every part of the world.

Madiba believed, in his own words, that: “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives, [will] go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately [dream] of.”

This ethic of service above self, this ethos of upliftment, is at the heart of every Nelson Mandela Day, and it also underpins the work of the United Nations in every region of the world – none more so than right here in Asia and the Pacific.

Our shared challenge is to take up the torch he passed to us, and to live his legacy by ensuring that the ideals flourish today for which he lived, struggled and was prepared to die.

I thank you.