South Africa is going through the birth pains of a new democracy, but is likely to emerge stronger if it builds on its strengths.

That’s the view of Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Amina Mohammed, who will deliver this year’s annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at Cape Town’s International Convention Centre on Saturday.

Mohammed is the most powerful woman at the UN and was appointed the organisation’s number two after a process last year that for the first time sought but failed to elect a woman as Secretary General.

Speaking exclusively to SABC News in New York ahead of her departure for South Africa, Mohammed indicated she’d focus on the opportunity of what the new 2030 development framework provides and offer solutions that address the theme of this year’s lecture: Centering Gender and reducing inequality through inclusion.

The lecture coincides with the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

One in five women older than 18 has experienced physical violence in South Africa.

“Everyone has to believe and work towards zero because it’s unacceptable that any women should have harm done to her whether it is verbal, it is physical, it is mental – that’s just unacceptable and I think that we need to explain where that comes from in our different cultures, societies and how people hide behind religion, hide behind being allowed or it’s okay or you look the other way or it will be over soon, manage it as they would say in my country, it didn’t start with you, will it finish with you – I think we need to take away all of that and just get back to our basic humanity, our core values of doing no harm and from that I think you have to build up what it is in your communities, your societies, all the way through a country and its laws that seek to protect women.”

Mohammed was born in Gombe State, Nigeria 56 years ago.

She is the eldest of five daughters, a wife and the mother of six, a grandmother and a former Environment Minister in her country; but describes herself in more humble terms.

“I’m a development worker, all the rest are titles. It’s been my story, my pathway has never been one that I have said that this is the career path I want, it’s been one where I’ve been presented with challenges and I’ve worked through them. But I think most important I’ve been a woman of colour and I’ve been a Muslim and in all varying circumstances it’s been tough but with everything that is tough is an opportunity and we’ve managed to overcome those. So I would say that I was a survivor and from the day I was born, with breach, I landed on my feet.”

Mohammed will be the 15th person to deliver the Mandela lecture after it’s inauguration by former United States President Bill Clinton in 2003.

Listen to the audio below for the full package: