Address by His Excellency President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of the Nelson Mandela Centenary Reception during the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

27 January 2018

Your Excellency Professor Alpha Conde,
Chairperson of the AU

Your Excellency Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome you to today’s important occasion to mark the Nelson Mandela Centenary.

The year 2018 presents an opportunity for Africa and humanity as a whole to remember the legacy of this great icon, and to reflect on how we can make a meaningful contribution to promoting the ideals, principles and values that President Mandela stood for, ideals that were informed by Africa’s quest for freedom and prosperity.

Excellencies, Before Mandela became a global icon, he was an African and believed strongly in the African value system of Ubuntu, which had a tremendous impact on his leadership and life in general. Throughout his life, Madiba believed in the gift of humanity that Africa continues to give to the world in abundance.


It is a great honour that the first celebration of Nelson Mandela’s Centenary takes place here, in Africa, the place of his birth.

Madiba is a global icon, but he will always be rooted in Africa. We must thank the AU and its member states for keeping Mandela’s legacy alive through a myriad of symbols and tributes.

We once again call for your support for the proposed Declaration, to be adopted during our Summit, calling on us to observe the year 2018 as the Centenary of Nelson Mandela.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s event marks the beginning of a year-long programme featuring different events that will be taking place in South Africa, Africa and the world, all in honour of the legacy of this great son of the soil. The theme for the Centenary is “Be the Legacy”.

We are called upon to bring his legacy to life in our places of abode, work, leadership, business and in our interactions with other fellow human beings.

Just as he always reminded us, Mandela was an ordinary human being who elected to do extraordinary things with his life.

The fact that he is no longer amongst us is testimony to the reality that he, like all of us, was a mere mortal. Despite his humility, his legacy is a testament to the greatness that men and women can achieve when they put immeasurable effort to the realization of their vision.

History abounds with legends that recount the bravery of men and women who have made a contribution so significant to humanity that it seems unreal. Generations to come will read about a man from the southern tip of Africa, who inspired a generation to claim its freedom from the grasp of a barbaric and callous oppressor, and proclaimed a vision of a caring society underpinned by the values of respect for human rights, freedom, service, equality and justice, while seeing unity as a weapon for victory.   

The Nelson Mandela Centenary is a perfect opportunity for us to share ideas on how to positively change the prevailing human condition in Africa and beyond.

Nelson Mandela viewed life through a prism of hope as he negotiated the trials and tribulations of his life to ultimately become a colossus of our day. His life story is a classic example of the triumph of the human spirit.

Mandela was an ordinary human being who was compelled by the unjust conditions of his life in a country of his forebears to dedicate his entire life to the emancipation of his people from the manacles of a brutal political and socio-economic system. His bravery in the face of calamity inspires all of us to give our all and fight for justice whenever it is trampled upon.

It is no surprise that his favourite poem was William Ernest Henley’s Invictus (meaning unconquerable in Latin) at whose core is a message of courage in the face of fatality.

Without doubt, Madiba remains the epitome of peace, hope, humility and reconciliation. He stands as an embodiment of the highest standards of the African Union. As an organisation upon which the people of Africa look for inspired hope, we dare not linger.

The bar is set high. Ours is to “Be the Legacy” and actualise Madiba’s vision of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Africa.

Today the African continent is home to more than a billion people most of whom are young people. All these people deserve a better life.

It is true that African leaders took the baton from Madiba and introduced robust and innovative policies and programmes to expedite the development of the continent. Agenda 2063 is our flagship programme that can unleash the continent’s potential and bring about hope and prosperity to all. I appeal to all of you, fellow leaders of our peoples, to consolidate our efforts and contribute to the upliftment of our people.

Like Madiba, we are hopeful that the day will come when Africa will be freed of the scourge of conflict and underdevelopment and focus its energies and resources on the creation of a better and sustainable livelihood for all.

I am reminded of his words in June 1994 when he addressed the OAU Summit that discussed, among others, the removal from its agenda the consideration of the question of Apartheid South Africa. He made a call that: “Africa cries out for a new birth, Carthage awaits the restoration of its glory”.

Nelson Mandela did not only talk about Africa’s rebirth; during his years in office and later through his Foundation, he dedicated a significant amount of time and effort to the realisation of this vision.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is now in our hands to live Madiba’s legacy and ensure that we create a society based on the values of ubuntu, peace, justice and selfless service.  As we march with zeal towards 2063, we should drink from the fountain of Madiba’s wisdom and values, and revive ourselves because THE AFRICA WE WANT is within reach.

I thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency





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