New York: At the United Nations, President Cyril Ramaphosa called upon world leaders “to prove ourselves worthy as the bearers of the legacy of Nelson Mandela”, as he launched the Mandela Peace Summit and unveiled a statue of Madiba in the UN General Assembly here on Monday.
His sentiments were shared by many other speakers including more than 40 heads of state who spoke to honour Mandela, especially his role as a South African and global peacemaker.
“It is our deepest hope that this summit, in the name of one of our greatest exemplars of humanity, serves as a new dawn for the United Nations,” Ramaphosa said.
“We hope the summit will give expression to the Secretary-General’s call for a ‘surge in diplomacy’.
“We hope we will rediscover the strength of will to save successive generations from war, and to overcome the hatred of our past and the narrow interests that blind us to the vision of a common future that is peaceful and prosperous.
“We hope we will prove ourselves worthy as the bearers of the legacy of Nelson Mandela,” said Ramaphosa.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres echoed Ramaphosa’s sentiments by calling on other world leaders “to build on Nelson Mandela’s legacy so that all people everywhere can enjoy peace, prosperity and inclusive and sustainable development.
“Nelson Mandela was one of humanity’s great leaders. He embodied the highest values of the United Nations.”
Guterres said that apart from his milestone role in defeating apartheid, Mandela had been a “profound influence for peace and democracy” beyond SA’s borders.
Mandela had played a key role in brokering the Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi.
“And, everywhere, he was a champion for peace, forgiveness, humility, compassion and dignity and human rights.”
Guterres said the world was in 2018 marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Almost exactly 20 years ago, Mandela had spoken about that document in the same hall, urging all leaders to “have the courage to ensure that, at last, we build a human world consistent with the provisions of that historic declaration”.
“Today, with human rights under growing pressure around the world, we would be well served by reflecting on the example of this outstanding man.
“Madiba was a global citizen whose legacy must continue to guide us.
“Let us commit to build on Nelson Mandela’s legacy so that all people everywhere can enjoy peace, prosperity and inclusive and sustainable development.”
Mandela’s widow Graça Machel, co-founder with Mandela of the Elders organisation, urged the leaders to take inspiration from the values which her husband had embodied, especially his unwavering commitment to justice and equality.
“Don’t let this be just another summit. Bold and unprecedented action must follow,” she said, saying the UN must end the scourge of senseless violence engulfing the world.
Ramaphosa said that the peace summit had been prompted by a desire to take stock of how the UN had performed in the pursuit of peace.
“It provides a moment for us as heads of state and government to recommit ourselves to achieve the social and economic development necessary for the prevention of conflict.”
He noted that the UN had emerged out of the ashes of World War II to try to prevent the world from going to war with itself again. Through the many crises since then, it had endured as a force for stability and co-operation, and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Nonetheless, millions of people worldwide have been killed, maimed, displaced and starved as a result of war and conflicts.
Of these, women and children continued to bear a disproportionate burden.
“While we have managed to avoid another world war, we continue to grapple with the haunting spectre of modern atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica.
“We are confronted by intra-state armed conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen; the protracted turmoil in Somalia and other parts of the African continent, and struggles for self-determination in Western Sahara and Palestine.
“To respond to these threats, we need a United Nations that is responsive, adaptable and able to deal with challenges its founders could not have imagined.
“It should not rely merely on the political interests of a few, as an impasse between the major powers often impedes the entire organisation’s ability to act.
“Through this Peace Summit, the current generation of global leadership is given an opportunity not only to reflect on peace in the world, but to take those measures necessary to end the wars that continue to take millions of innocent lives.
“We are called upon to act decisively to end the exposure of women and children to untold suffering including displacement, torture, rape, mutilation and murder.
“We are called upon to ensure that women are afforded a special role in peace negotiations, political transition and in ensuring durable security.”
Ramaphosa also recalled that in Mandela’s last address to the UN General Assembly, almost 20 years ago to the day, he had called on the world to destroy its weapons of mass destruction.
“The truth is that there can be no justification for the existence of weapons that carry with them the potential to extinguish life on this planet,” Ramaphosa said.
He applauded the General Assembly for adopting, in 2017, the “groundbreaking” Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
“South Africa will soon deposit its instrument of ratification of this historic treaty. We call on all peace loving states to ratify the treaty so that it comes into force without delay.”
Earlier in the day, Ramaphosa and Guterres had unveiled a life-size bronze statute of Mandela inside the General Assembly which had been sculpted by South Africans Andre Otto and Andre Prinsloo in a record five weeks to be ready in time for the peace summit.
Ramaphosa presented the statue to Guterres on behalf of the government and people of South Africa, recognising the leading role of the United Nations in championing the struggle of the South African people against apartheid and in calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners.
“President Mandela firmly believed that the United Nations was the most valuable and effective instrument for the advancement of peace, development and equality that humanity had conceived.
“We trust that this statue will remain a constant reminder to the international community of the dedication of Nelson Mandela to the mission of the United Nations and a constant affirmation of South Africa’s commitment to contribute to a better world for all.”
Guterres said at the unveiling that Mandela “was a champion for all people – in his words and in his actions. He was willing to fight and die for the ideals he held so dear.
“When he achieved the pinnacle of power as president of his beloved country, Madiba set an example that still resounds throughout Africa and the world – he stepped down after one term, confident in the durability of South Africa’s newfound democracy.
“He did not pursue power for its own sake, but simply as a means of service.
“This humility is a hallmark of Madiba’s greatness.”
Though the credit for the fight against apartheid must go to the people of South Africa, the UN also played its role, for which it should be proud.
“From this day on, all delegates, staff and visitors to the United Nations can be constantly inspired by Madiba’s legacy looking at this wonderful statue,” he said.
Co-sculptor Otto said the pose of the statue – showing Mandela with his arms outstretched, with open hands facing forward in a gesture of peace – was unique among Mandela statues. It was not inspired by any particular image of Mandela but inspired by many thousands, he said.
Though unveiled elsewhere on the site, Mandela’s statue is to be moved to stand on the ground floor of the UN building where it will be accessible to members of the public and political leaders alike. DM