“Peace Bench” unveiled at UN to commemorate Mandela Day

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A “Peace Bench” was unveiled on Nelson Mandela International Day at the United Nations in New York Thursday night in the hopes of inspiring the multilateral process and the need for more dialogue in the geo-political space.

In a collaboration between the missions of South Africa and Norway to the UN, the bench is located outside the General Assembly to celebrate dialogue for peace and multilateral cooperation as a tribute to the legacy of Madiba.

Gathering in the spirit of multilateralism, for the unveiling of a peace bench – titled “The Best Weapon” – and developed by the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway, Tourism Minister Mmamaloko Kubayi-Ngubane had this to say.

“Nelson Mandela will forever be remembered as one of the architects of our nation and its peaceful transition to freedom and democracy through dialogue and mediation. This evening South Africa welcomes the unveiling of the bench which depicts this great legacy of dialogue as the best weapon for war. May it be a reminder to us all at the United Nations to remain determined to seek peaceful solutions to conflict and political difference through engaging in dialogue and enhancing engagement through multilateralism.”

The bench will remain next to the famous knotted gun in the visitors square at UNHQ until the end of the General Assembly’s heads of state session in September. Its inverted arch-like shape is quite intentional. As the thinking goes it’s almost impossible to sit comfortably on the ends of the bench which force one to slide into the middle, to the centre where shoulders touch, where one’s personal space is invaded and where it is hoped, more dialogue can take place. The structure is inscribed with a quote from Madiba in 2003 when he said , “The best weapon is to sit down and talk”.

Norway’s Minister for International development Dag Inge Ulstein, “The bench that we are here to unveil tonight is a symbol of this multilateralism and as you all can see it is designed in a shape that brings people together in the centre. You are all drawn to sit close to talk, to listen and to cooperate. You simply cannot sit on opposite sides. My hope is that this bench will be used everyday as a symbol of dialogue as our best weapon for peace.”

In the hopes of creating more common ground and greater understanding between those who find themselves on opposite sides of various debates today, both geo-political or otherwise – as Live Torres of the Nobel Peace Centre explains.

“When we came up with this idea the hope was that we would see friends sitting on this bench but also opponents, adversaries, people fighting and someone even said at some stage that yes, people are forced to sit closely together but it’s better that people invade somebody’s comfort zone, personal  comfort zone than invading somebody’s countries. So there is an idea behind the shape that its been given.”

She also shared some specific examples where the bench could play a positive role.

“I must admit I’ve been among those hoping to see President Trump and maybe four Congresswomen or the Supreme Leader Khamenei on the bench. I’ve had a dream of seeing Netanyahu and Abbas on the bench and I’ve had ideas of having Maduro and Guaido also shaping the future of Venezuela on that bench.”

In a world where multilateralism is increasingly under pressure, whether in conflict resolution or progress towards the global development agenda.

More talking could just be the answer