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UNOG Commemoration in Honour of Nelson Mandela

Commemoration in honour of the late former President of the Republic of South Africa
Mr. Nelson Mandela

A commemoration in honour of former President of the Republic of South Africa, H.E. Mr. Nelson Mandela, was held on Tuesday, 17 December 2013 at 11:00 a.m. in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room (Room XX).

The commemoration brought together the international community in Geneva to pay collective respect to one of the greatest leaders and most remarkable human beings of our time, salute his extraordinary courage, and be inspired by his struggle for freedom, equality and justice for all.

The commemoration included a message from the Secretary-General, a video message from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, remarks by the Permanent Representative of South Africa and the Permanent Observer of the African Union, and an address by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Those who were not able to participate may watch the archived webcast video at

Show details for Secretary-General's message to Memorial Ceremony for Nelson Mandela
Secretary-General's message to Memorial Ceremony for Nelson Mandela

Hide details for Remarks by Kofi Annan for the Memorial Ceremony for Nelson MandelaRemarks by Kofi Annan for the Memorial Ceremony for Nelson Mandela

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to join you today.

We are gathered here today to pay tribute to, and commemorate, the life of a great man.
Nelson Mandela led a singular life of sacrifice, dignity and political genius. His struggle for freedom and justice brought about the end of one of the great evils of modern times.

He held his country together when it threatened to break apart. And as he moved his nation towards justice, he inspired the world with his strength and compassion.
In him, we celebrate a courageous champion of peace, a clear moral compass and a leader of unparalleled vision.

The promise of visionary leadership is not, however, the most important lesson that Madiba leaves behind. In fact, it is arguably the opposite. At any point, Madiba could have made the struggle, and the victory, over apartheid about himself. But he rejected the rule of the “Big Man” in favour of a commitment to establishing lasting democratic institutions. He invested his authority and energy in building a party, a state and a rule of law that was greater than any individual.

And by stepping down after one term in office, he set an example that too few of his peers on the continent have had the courage to follow. For my generation of Africans, this was a particular and exceptional example.

I remember clearly the sense of optimism and excitement which accompanied our independence struggles a half-century ago. Across the continent, we witnessed the exhilarating possibility of peaceful change, and the chance to take our destiny into own our hands.

These youthful hopes for self-determination were too often betrayed by decades of misrule and military coups. But Mandela restored our faith in the possibility that we might shape a future worthy of the immense sacrifice of our liberation movements. He showed us what our continent could become - not simply by ending apartheid - but by ending apartheid peacefully, through a relentless commitment to dialogue, reconciliation and power-sharing.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mandela may have been the world’s best-known and most revered political figure, and the most gentle of icons. He was also blessed with a mischievous sense of humour, and an attitude to power which can only be described as ‘irreverent.’

As UN Secretary-General, I grew used to being greeted by him, with a big smile, as “Boss”. He smiled because he was well aware that I did not find ‘Boss’ to be an appropriate title. I would speak with him frequently on the phone and sought his advice in difficult times. His guidance was an indispensable source of encouragement and steadied my resolve.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mandela's example is one which all leaders should strive to follow. His legacy however, is not about finding another Mandela, in Africa or elsewhere.

Instead, it is for individual men and women – empowered and educated citizens of our world– to take responsibility for our societies.

And this – the spirit of Ubuntu - is perhaps the greatest gift that Nelson Mandela bestows: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; and that by caring for those around us, we will find the truth in ourselves.

Let me end by sharing a story which I believe captures the light in which many of us came to see Madiba.

The first meeting of the Elders, a group he founded, was held in Ulusaba Game Reserve in South Africa, in 2007.

A year later, during a visit to the Park, I asked a game ranger, "What is the most exciting thing you've ever seen during your years at Ulusaba?"

What I had in mind were encounters with the big five - elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino or lion. Instead, the Ranger replied without hesitation: "Madiba; I met him when he came here to Ulusaba."

Later, when I went to see Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, I told him that the “Big five has become the Big Six,” and that the sixth was called Madiba, and I shared the story with him.

What a magnificent soul Nelson Mandela was. We will miss him deeply. May his soul be blessed and rest in peace.

Thank you.

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Show details for Remarks by the Permanent Representative of the African Union for the Memorial Ceremony for Nelson MandelaRemarks by the Permanent Representative of the African Union for the Memorial Ceremony for Nelson Mandela

Show details for Remarks of the Acting Director-General of UNOG at the commemoration in Honour of Nelson MandelaRemarks of the Acting Director-General of UNOG at the commemoration in Honour of Nelson Mandela

Show details for Acting Director-General's tribute to Nelson MandelaActing Director-General's tribute to Nelson Mandela