The United Nations family today mourned the loss – and celebrated the life and enduring legacy – of Nelson Mandela, the former South African leader and peace advocate who passed away 5 December 2013 at the age of 95.
As the UN flag was lowered to half-staff over the world body’s Headquarters in New York, the 193-member General Assembly held a moment of silence to honour the memory of the man affectionately known as “Madiba,” who emerged from 27 years of imprisonment to become South Africa’s first black President and is known worldwide for his compassionate yet determined efforts to dismantle the country’s legacy of apartheid.
“Today, in this Assembly of Nations, we mourn the loss of Mr. Nelson Mandela, one of our world’s greatest leaders,” said Assembly President John Ashe, who said the example of Mr. Mandela’s life and actions, “demonstrates the difference one person can make in the face of adversity, oppression and prejudice, while maintaining a disposition of humility, humour and modesty that is so rare amongst people of his stature.”
In his remarks, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson hailed Mr. Mandela’s courage, farsightedness, political skills, and kindness, adding that: “In a world too often riven and divided by vicious cycles of violence and revenge, perhaps the most impressive of President Mandela’s gifts was his power of forgiveness, his ability to overcome bitterness and hatred.”
“We remember Nelson Mandela today. But we should carry his spirit with us every day,” continued Mr. Eliasson. “It means, speaking out against prejudice and discrimination wherever we see their dark manifestations. It means, standing up against the indignity and deprivation that millions of our fellow human beings still suffer around the world.”
Mr. Mandela’s ground-breaking legacy and inspirational spirit was also hailed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who spoke to the press soon after the South African leader’s passing was announced. Calling him a “giant for justice,” the UN chief said Mr. Mandela “showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us – if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity.”
Recalling his memories of meeting Mr. Mandela, the Secretary-General said he had been deeply touched and inspired. “When I praised him for his lifelong contribution to end apartheid he said ‘It is not only me, but hundreds and hundreds of known and unknown people that contributed.’ That has stuck with me ever since.”
Among the many tributes pouring in from across the UN system to honour Mr. Mandela, the Security Council, which stopped a public meeting yesterday afternoon to hold a moment of silence, issued a statement last night expressing deep admiration for the “moral and political leadership” he displayed and his decisive role in shaping the peaceful transition to a united and democratic South Africa.