Taking Action & Inspiring Change on Nelson Mandela International Day

Nelson Mandela International Day
Bangkok, 18 July 2013

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

Distinguished Members of the ACPR,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Introduction & SG’s Message

The Nguni people of Southern Africa, whose rich and proud history stretches more than 2000 years into the past, have a name for the brightest early morning star – they call it Ikhwezi Lomso.

It rises in the pre-dawn sky, before the coming of the day, and signals across the land that the darkest hours of night have passed.

Nelson Mandela’s sacrifices, struggles, and service to his people, are the embodiment of that light. In the midst of terrible darkness and grave oppression, he was the living Ikhwezi Lomso, signaling the hope of a bright new dawn for all South Africans.

For the people of the world, his leadership through dialogue and negotiation, forged new and better paths to peace, truth, non-racialism, and reconciliation.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to ESCAP – our United Nations hub for Asia and the Pacific – for our celebrations this year of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2009 as Nelson Mandela International Day.

Madame Ambassador, I know I speak for every one of us when I say how happy we are to be able to celebrate today in the knowledge that Mr. Mandela is still with us, and we extend to you, his family, his colleagues, and his people, our sincere wishes for the continued improvement of his health.

Under the theme of taking action and inspiring change, each of us in every community around the world, is asked on this day to honour the 67 years which Mr. Mandela gave in service to humanity, by devoting at least 67 minutes of our own lives, to make a difference in a global movement for good.

I would like to share with you a message from the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, I quote:

This year’s commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day comes at a moment of deep reflection on the life and work of Madiba, as the universally revered leader remains in the hospital. As we extend our best wishes to President Mandela on his 95th birthday, let us also give tangible meaning to our feelings of concern by taking action on behalf of others.

Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to the struggle for human rights and social justice. In marking this Day, the United Nations is joining the Mandela Foundation in asking people around the world to devote at least 67 minutes of their time on 18 July to community service.

The heart of Nelson Mandela International Day is good works for people and the planet. Its theme -- “take action, inspire change” -- is meant to mobilize the human family to do more to build a peaceful, sustainable and equitable world. This is the best tribute we can pay to an extraordinary man who embodies the highest values of humanity.

At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Mandela, his family and with all the people of South Africa. We are united in admiration for a giant of our times.

End Quote.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Global Significance of Nelson Mandela’s Legacy

In my career with the United Nations, I have been privileged to have worked with some of the most courageous and inspirational leaders of our time, but none has had a more personal impact on me than Nelson Mandela.

In my role as former Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), my colleagues and I were honored to work very closely with the former President, in his role as Facilitator of the Burundi Peace Process.

He was one of the first world leaders to truly grasp the importance of the adoption, by the UN Security Council, of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security – and it was he who helped us to breathe real life into its implementation.

Women worked for years in Burundi, at the local level, to bring about peace, but were excluded from the national peace negotiating tables. Mr. Mandela opened those doors for us in 2000 – and asked UNIFEM to organize, in just three weeks, the first women’s peace conference in Burundi.

It was a continuation of the links which we forged in 1995, at the dawning of the new democratic South Africa. Taking global inspiration from the peaceful transformation of South Africa, we were joined by a group of dynamic African women at sunrise in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, one of the most troubled parts of the country, to light the UNIFEM peace torch. That light then travelled around the world, through other areas of conflict, to shine as a beacon of hope and to open the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China.

Madame Ambassador, we offer our thanks for the generosity of spirit which has shared Nelson Mandela, the greatest son of South Africa with all of us, ensuring that he truly belongs to every person, in every country around the world.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


In conclusion, we have seen today on the screens and monitors around the building, a series of inspirational quotes from Mr. Mandela’s life. One, in particular, bears repeating. He said: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, it is what difference we have made to the lives of others”.

I believe that no person of this generation has made such a wonderful difference to the lives of others as Nelson Mandela. A warrior, a statesman, a nation-builder, an earth-shaker, a man of peace and humility, a friend to the weak, a voice for the voiceless, and the embodiment of the values and principles of the United Nations.

Xhosa people, and the political movement which was Mr. Mandela’s home for decades, the African National Congress (ANC), bestow a title on those heroes who distinguish themselves in the eyes of all people for exceptional leadership and heroism – they call this person Isithwalandwe.

On behalf of the United Nations family in our region, and all the people of Asia and the Pacific, I offer our deepest respect, our admiration, and our thanks to Isithwalandwe Nelson Mandela. Happy birthday Madiba!