Prince Harry said at a UN memorial Monday on Nelson Mandela’s birthday that the South African leader has always managed to find light, despite suffering many injustices in his life.
Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, told the general: “A man who had endured the worst of humanity – vicious racism and state-sponsored brutality. A man who lost 27 years with his children and family that he will never return.” Assembly, referring to the years Mandela spent in prison for fighting apartheid.
Yet in a 1997 photo taken with Mandela with his mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, he said the leader was smiling broadly.
“Still able to see the good in humanity, still delighted with the beautiful spirit that lifted everyone around him,” he said. “Not because he was blind to the ugliness, to the injustices of the world. No, he saw them clearly. He had lived them. But because he knew we could overcome them.”
The Queen’s grandson, who left the family shortly after marrying Meghan Markle and now lives in California, was the keynote speaker at the annual commemoration of Mandela’s birthday. Markle accompanied him to a United Nations event.
Harry said he made his first trip to Africa when he was 13 and always found hope there. One of his charity, Sentebel, works with vulnerable children and youth in the southern African countries of Lesotho and Botswana.
Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba, was a freedom fighter who was elected as the first black president of South Africa in 1994. Today is his 104th birthday. He died in December 2013 at the age of 95.
In honor of Mandela’s life and legacy, an honorary award is given every five years to recognize a man and woman who have shown dedication to the service of humanity. Due to the pandemic, this is the first UN memorial since 2019.
Award-winners Mariana Verdinoyanis of Greece, recognized for her work fighting childhood cancer, and Dr. Morisanda Kouete of Guinea, for her activism towards ending violence against women, including female genital mutilation included, were the winners of 2020 and were recognized at Monday’s event.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of Mandela that he was a “leader of enormous, unparalleled courage and immense achievement of our time”, who remains a moral compass for all.
“Today and every day, let us honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela by taking action,” Guterres’ deputy Amina Mohamed said on Guterres’s behalf. “Speaking out against hatred and standing up for human rights. By embracing our common humanity – rich in diversity, equal in dignity, united in solidarity. And together we can make our world more just, compassionate, prosperous and sustainable for all By making.”
Deputy Secretary-General Mohamed, who is a Nigerian, said he drew personal inspiration from Mandela.
“I take to heart his profound lesson that we all have the ability — and responsibility — to take action,” she said.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams also addressed the assembly. He said he had visited the small Robben Island cell in Cape Town, where Mandela was jailed for 27 years.
“That little cell where he had endured a lot was a powerful site,” said Adams, who is African American. “When he was in prison, he knew not where he was, who he was.”
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a written statement that she met Mandela briefly, but it had a lasting impact on her life.
“To this day, his courage, compassion and leadership continue to inspire me as we collectively strive towards a world that is more peaceful, just and free,” she said.
As part of paying tribute to Mandela on his birthday, people are urged to make a difference in their communities. On Monday afternoon, UN staff and diplomats had to pick up garbage, remove weeds and prepare food packages at a park in East Harlem in Upper Manhattan.