Nelson Mandela’s legacy is one that speaks to everyone around the globe who seeks justice, equality and human rights. That was among the messages conveyed by a host of speakers at the official UN commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day in New York.

The UN Chief described South Africa’s first democratically elected President as an extraordinary global advocate for dignity and equality and one of the most iconic and inspirational leaders of our time while South Africa’s Tourism Minister urged UN member states to honour Madiba’s legacy by redoubling efforts in the full implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Those gathered were reminded that Madiba would have been 101 years old on Thursday – a life exemplified by courage, compassion and a commitment to freedom, peace and social justice.

With the UN 2018 declaring 2019-2028 the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace, Secretary General Antonio Guterres says the multilateral system built by the UN is under strain.

“And human rights are under siege from many quarters. In response, let us be guided by Nelson Mandela’s courage and wisdom to stand up for the values and principles of the United Nations Charter. Our best tribute to a full life that Nelson Mandela devoted to the struggle for human rights is found in action.”

Among the keynote speakers were human rights lawyer, Gay McDougall, who famously stood alongside Madiba when he voted for the first time in 1994.

“Nelson Mandela has left a challenge, not only for South Africans but for all of us who live in the wake of his life. Will we make choices in our lives and work and indeed in the international policies made in this great institution, the General Assembly of the UN)? Will we make choices that reflect the ideals of justice and example of courage that are his legacy to humanity?”

New York City’s current Deputy Mayor was part of the organizing committee that welcomed Madiba on his maiden trip to the United States after his release in 1990.

Phillip Thompson says, “His first trip out of Africa when he was released from prison was to New York City. And when he came two million New Yorkers came out to the streets to greet him. This was because the courage, sacrifice and aspirations of the South African people for a non-racial and democratic society was already widely admired by people here in New York. Nelson Mandela not only represented the people of South Africa; he represented us too.”

As the case was made for Madiba’s legacy to inspire the global development agenda, which requires a much-needed jolt, Tourism Minister Mmamaloko Kubayi-Ngubane strongly supported that.

“While extreme poverty has eased considerably since the 1990s, pockets of the worst forms of poverty still persist, not least on the Continent of Africa. In honor of the legacy and values espoused by Mandela and in upholding the founding principles of this august inter-governmental body, we should, as Member States, redouble our efforts in the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda. We must further utilise the International Nelson Mandela Day to interrogate and reflect on what more can be done to enhance our universal social protection systems and what sorts of targeted measures we can employ to reduce extreme poverty by 2030.”

President of the General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces concurred.

“Ultimately, it is by delivering the SDGs that we can live up to the ideals that Mandela lived for – the ideals he was prepared to die for; the ideals of our United Nations. Those ideals demand that we do more to build a culture of peace.”

The message was clear – by delivering on the 17 goals contained in the SDGs, the world would, in so doing, be appropriately honouring the legacy of this global icon.

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