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Statement By His Excellency Jeffrey Radebe, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development of the Republic of South Africa to the United Nations General Assembly On The Occasion of the Mandela International Day

18 July 2012

Your Excellency, the President of the General United Nations
Permanent Representatives,
Permanent Observers,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The decision by this august body three years ago to declare July 18th, the birthday of President Mandela, the Mandela International Day, was historic and unprecedented in the life of this organization.  President Mandela himself, members of his family, the people of South Africa and the entire continent of Africa were humbled and are grateful for this singular honour. It is fitting that this particular event again takes place in New York where Mandela was granted the honour of “Freedom of The City” by the fathers and mothers of this great city, some of whom are among us today.  South Africa, Africa and the world have changed since 1918 when Madiba was born. Almost the entire continent of Africa was under imperialism and colonialism.  It is symbolic that Mandela was born at the height of the First World War when the dream of a peaceful world which Mandela has tirelessly worked for, was unimaginable.   The African National Congress (ANC), the oldest liberation movement in Africa, of which Nelson Mandela was one of its illustrious leaders, was only six years old when he was born.

Today’s celebration of President Mandela’s 94th birthday coincides with the centenary celebrations of the African National Congress, which is the ruling party in South Africa.

The history of the ANC is full of Nelson Mandela’s footprint both as its member and icon.  He dedicated his entire life to the course of Freedom, Justice and Equality for the people of South Africa and Africa. It was after joining the ANC that he became conscious of the daily injustice, oppression and indignity that his people were subjected to. It was during this period that he got to understand the suffering of the majority   and their deplorable social condition in South Africa. 

Mandela also expended tremendous energy in learning about and understanding the oppressor, giving practical meaning to the words of the great African writer, Chinua Achebe, in his book titled: “The Education of a British-Protected Child", asserted that:

“To answer oppression with appropriate resistance requires knowledge of two kinds: in the first place, self-knowledge by the victim, which means awareness that oppression exists, an awareness that the victim has fallen from a great height of glory or promise into the present depths; secondly, the victim must know who the enemy is.”

The formation of the United Nations and the adoption of its Charter in 1945 became a major cause and source of inspiration for the people of South Africa and Africa in general.  The Charter affirmed the values and principles that underpinned the ANC’s Bill of Rights of 1923 and the Africa’s Claims of 1943. These instruments later formed the thrust of the Freedom Charter of 1955 which finds expression in many of the nations’ Constitutions including South Africa’s. The principles and ideals espoused in the UN Charter found resonance in our continent more than anywhere else in the world.  The UN brought hope to millions of Africans given its principles and ideals of Justice, Freedom and commitment to address the challenges of underdevelopment and socio-economic deprivation.

Mr President,

It should be an indictment to all of us here today that after more than six decades of its existence, there are still people who are denied Universal Rights to Freedom, Justice and Equality.  More than one billion people are food insecure and live below the poverty line.  As we celebrate Mandela’s 94th birthday, under the theme “Creating a caring world” it is important to remember the plight of millions of people, women and children who are subjected to brutality, oppression, violence and gross violations of human rights across the globe.  

Nelson Mandela and the ANC’s’ struggle for Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights was a universal and global struggle. It was for this reason that the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1947 marked a significant milestone in the struggle against oppression, colonialism and Apartheid. We remain forever grateful to the United Nations and its Member States for having agreed to have the United Nations also become a centre of gravity in the fight against apartheid.

Mandela and the ANC’s political objectives were never about narrow nationalistic interests and vengeance, but about human dignity, equality and justice. The defeat of Nazism in 1945, in which many Africans participated in that process as equals in the process, further strengthened the resolve of the ANC and Mandela’s generation that forces of good will always prevail over evil.  When a similar ideology reared its ugly head in South Africa in the form of Apartheid, the world had learnt a hard lesson that a political system that undermines the dignity of others had to be stopped in its tracks.  It was with this in mind that global solidarity, was forged to destroy apartheid. We are grateful to the boldness with which this organization led in the consolidation of this solidarity.

In 1964, Mandela and his fellow combatants and  compatriots were convicted for high treason.  Appearing before a White Judge, with a high probability of facing a death penalty, President Mandela declared what he and the ANC stood for, and said:

“During my life time I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people.  I have fought against White domination, and I have fought Against Black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mr President,

This was the core of what Mandela and his comrades were sentenced to life imprisonment for.  This statement reverberated across the world.   It was not a mere coincidence of history that this statement was made just six months after the Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a Dream” speech.  Mandela’s statement mobilized and inspired our people in the same manner that Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” statement inspired African-Americans.  Unlike Dr. King, Mandela was fortunate to live and see the fulfillment of his dream of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities.  He had the honor to become the first President of a democratic South Africa following the historic general elections of 1994.

Today Mr President, on the occasion of Mandela’s 94th birthday and 100 years anniversary of the African National Congress, we are grateful of the role that International solidarity in particular through the United Nations, has played.  The decision of the United Nations to declare Apartheid a Crime against humanity was in no small measure a significant boost to our cause.  The United Nations declared the 21st March after the Sharpeville massacre of 1961 an International Day for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. The formation of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid, in which many member states participated, was also a concrete expression of the commitment of this Organization to its Charter’s ideals and principles.

The role of the Anti-Apartheid Movement with programs and activities coordinated in many of the member states was also very significant.  The Release Mandela Campaign  received immense international backing, mobilizing and conscitising many to whom the gross injustice of his incarceration had not registered.  We remain forever indebted to the International community and the United Nations for the achievement of our struggle, goals and dreams.  President Mandela, addressing our people in 1994 after the first ever democratic elections in South Africa, declared that our freedom would not be complete when others elsewhere were still not free.

I have had the personal honor to be appointed by President Mandela to serve in his Cabinet in 1994.  He led our nation with humility through a difficult period of transition and national reconciliation.   Even when he was a President he remained committed to the  cause of justice and human dignity.  The improvement of the quality of life of our people was his foremost concern.  He committed himself and did everything he could to address the challenges of poverty, underdevelopment and the scourge of wars and conflicts in our continent.  President Mandela extended his solidarity to the oppressed people of Palestine and Western Sahara.

Today Mr President, the best gift we can give to President Mandela for his birthday is to renew our commitment and resolve to the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment; to end violence against women and children and continue to advance gender equality all over the world;  and to comprehensively address conflicts and wars.  He will be very pleased if we can do everything we can as the International Community to make sure that no child dies of malnutrition when the world produces enough, none goes to sleep without food or water; none denigrates another’s dignity; none is discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion; none is treated unfairly.  We all owe it to Madiba to continue to improve the lives of the world citizens in a spirit of love and selflessness.

Madiba will be very happy if we as members of the international community and the United Nations can stand and speak with one voice against injustice, brutality, oppression, occupation, gross violations of human rights, terrorism and dictatorship anywhere in the world. One of the best gifts the people of Africa delivered to President Mandela two days ago was to elect a woman for the first time ever as chair of the African Union Commission.  It a dawn of a new era for the African Continent in advancing  its developmental agenda aimed at building a better Africa  and a better world.

Mandela has committed himself to the course of humanity and creation of a just world free of wars, strife and poverty.  On this day we are called upon to  dedicate 67 minutes of our time, which represents 67 years that he dedicated his life to the service of his people to contribute to the betterment of our fellow human beings.  Our quest to build a caring world requires us to continue to promote international solidarity and cooperation. This day presents us an opportunity as a world body to reflect on our efforts and endeavors in the service of humanity.

We have to continue to strengthen this august organisation as a world premier body to address challenges facing mankind today. Mandela Day will have no meaning if we are not taking the opportunity to redirect and refocus this Organization on matters that are of concern to the majority of humanity.  In spite of our diversities as Member States we are all bound together by the common principles espoused in the Charter of the United Nations in our collective resolve to build a peaceful, united and caring world.

May I take this opportunity to wish President Nelson Mandela a Happy Birthday and the international community a fruitful International Mandela Day.

I thank you.