The first democratically-elected President of South Africa, and the country’s first Black leader, died in December 2013 at age 95. The annual commemoration on 18 July, his birthday, recognizes his contribution to the culture of peace and freedom.
Mr. Mandela – affectionately known as “Madiba”, his Xhosa clan name - fought against the racist apartheid system in his homeland, and for equality and freedom for all people.
Abdulla Shahid, President of the UN General Assembly, recalled that he also advocated for democracy, gender equality, the rights of children and young people, and for protecting the environment.
“Madiba’s fight against apartheid, was in fact a fight for a better world, in which the freedom, justice and dignity of all were respected. He called for peace, social justice, equality and human understanding throughout his life,” he said.
Delivering the keynote address, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, said the life and legacy of Mr. Mandela must be celebrated every day, particularly as younger generations may not be familiar with his leadership.
“Let’s talk with our children about what he stood for. Let’s seek out what we have in common, empower all people to reclaim our democracies, and harness the light of Mandela’s memory to illuminate the way forward,” he said.
Prince Harry attended the ceremony alongside his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
He shared that he treasures a photo of his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Mr. Mandela, which was given to him by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid leader who died in December.
In it, Mr. Mandela is beaming, despite having endured “the very worst of humanity, vicious racism and state-sponsored brutality”, and spending 27 years in prison.
At the ceremony, a Greek philanthropist who fights to end childhood cancer, and a Guinean senior official working to stamp out violence against women and girls in Africa, were honoured for their service to humanity.
Marianna Vardinoyannis and Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté are the recipients of the 2020 United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize.
The Prize is awarded every five years to one man and one woman, but presentation was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed presented the Prize to the honourees. Ms. Vardinoyannis took part in the ceremony virtually, and Greece’s Ambassador to the UN, Maria Theofili, accepted the award on her behalf.
Ms. Mohammed also delivered remarks on behalf of the UN Secretary-General who, in his message for the International Day, encouraged people to honour Mr. Mandela’s legacy by speaking out against hate and standing up for human rights.
Speaking in her own capacity, Ms. Mohammed said Mr. Mandela has served as an inspiration ever since she was young and finding her path.
“I have taken to heart his profound lesson that we all have the ability – and responsibility – to take action. That there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’. We are in this together, carrying a shared responsibility to preserve our common home and stand in solidarity with one another,” she said.