Remarks by HE Dr Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa, at the Annual Observance of the Nelson Mandela International Day, 21 July 2021, New York, UN General Assembly Hall

Your Excellency, Mr Volkan Bozkir, President of the General Assembly,
Your Excellency, Mr António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Distinguished Excellencies,
Dear Colleagues and Friends,

On behalf of the Government of the Republic of South Africa and His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, it is an honour for me to be with you today, even though virtually, to mark this auspicious occasion, the Nelson Mandela International Day. This is 103 years since the birth of our late beloved global icon and first President of our democratic republic, Dr Nelson Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela. That the United Nations General Assembly deemed it important to establish this day, not only attests to the enduring legacy, which Nelson Mandela bequeathed humanity, but it is also an affirmation of our common humanity in defence of which, President Mandela, our leader, sacrificed 27 years in jail. I convey to you South Africa’s most profound gratitude to the United Nations for its commitment to the advancement of Nelson Mandela’s values and ideals. The theme chosen for this year is very important, speaking as it does, to the first and second goals of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are ending poverty and achieving zero hunger. And of course, key to these, is saving lives first, in accordance with the third goal on health.

Mr President,

In his well-known autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela reminds us that he was born in a year in which humanity faced challenges similar to the current challenges that the world is confronted by, specifically that of the COVID-19 pandemic. He remarks, and I quote: “The year of my birth, marked the end of the Great War; the outbreak of an influenza pandemic that killed millions throughout the world.” Were he alive today, having been born in the midst of such challenges and into a life of struggle that was given momentum by global solidarity, he would most certainly urge us as humanity to rise together in solidarity to save the lives of all, everywhere, because none of us are safe until all are safe. A firm believer in strong and effective multilateralism, with the UN at the forefront, undergirded by the equality of nations, Nelson Mandela would have stressed the importance of all nations rising and working together, sharing ideas, the means and all the tools required for ending this vicious pandemic, which knows no boundaries. Central to this, is equitable, secure, predictable and affordable access in real time, to vaccines and all the tools which nations require to respond to the pandemic.

Mr President,

It would have been a matter of grave concern to President Nelson Mandela, that as I am addressing this gathering, on a day designated to mark his legacy, our continent, Africa, the second most populous continent in the world, with more that 1.3 billion people, is the last in line to have access to vaccines, while the richest countries are well advanced in vaccinating their people, while at the same time, hoarding vast reserves of doses of vaccines, even as they deny developing countries the capacity to produce vaccines. This is the type of injustice that would have been intolerable to President Mandela. We owe it to his legacy to vigorously demand and achieve universal access to vaccines now.

Mr President,

As a practical expression of the values that Nelson Mandela stood and fought for, we hope member states of the United Nations, will join and support our President, HE Cyril Ramaphosa, the COVID-19 Champion of the African Union and also Co-Chair of the ACT-A Facilitation Council in his urgent call to end Vaccine Nationalism and indeed, Vaccine Apartheid. Nelson Mandela would have been at the frontline of the campaign of the African Union and the developing world for an urgent waiver of the WTO TRIPS Agreement to ensure the rapid upscaling of the production of COVID-19 vaccines, of medicines and the sharing of technologies needed end the pandemic and save lives. While  natural instinct to protect the interests and mega profit margins of a few may tell us that it is impossible to act in the interests of all humanity, I remind you, as Nelson Mandela said that: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” That is how Apartheid was defeated in South Africa, in the face of seemingly indomitable might.

Mr President,

We are now one year into the Decade of Action on the promise made by our leaders when they adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, which embodies our shared vision to end poverty, address unemployment and income inequalities within and between countries. Data coming out on the impact of the pandemic, tells us that developing countries have lost at least two decades of development. Literally, for many developing countries they are at ground zero, if not back to where they were towards the end of the last century and millennium with respect to the MDGs. Towards the end of his life, the question of poverty eradication was uppermost in Nelson Mandela’s concerns and in his words, he urged us to address this, because as he said: “As long as poverty, injustice, and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” As we meet today to mark Nelson Mandela’s life, we must commit to spare no effort in ensuring that the progress lost in attaining the SDGs, because of the pandemic, is recovered speedily, so that as we build back better, truly, no one is left behind, particularly with regard to food security.

Key to this, are all the means of implementation necessary for an integrated approach to the SDGs in their interdependence and indivisibility as a package of human rights. Our interdependence as economies means that we either come out of the pandemic by building back better together or we scramble individually in a survival of the fittest mode to the detriment of sustained and inclusive global growth, which is absolutely necessary for the eradication of poverty and hunger, our ambition. The collective effort required to this end, may seem daunting, but always recall: “It always seems impossible, until it is done!”

Mr President,

While the influenza pandemic of 1918 and COVID-19 have in common, serious life- threatening challenges, they both fell upon an old pandemic, which is equally deadly, which has yet to be fully and effectively addressed and that is the pandemic of systemic racism.

As we work together to respond to COVID-19, we must also redouble our efforts to combat systemic racism globally. It has severely complicated our response to the pandemic. The victims of systemic racism have been hit hard by COVID-19 with a heavy burden imposed by loss of lives that could have been saved. We urgently need collective action based on agreed outcomes. As you would recall, the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in South Africa in September 2001, took place just after President Mandela retired from public office. However, in spite of his retirement, former President Mandela retained a keen interest in the outcomes of this conference, as he had spent 27 years of life in prison for challenging white supremacism and the Apartheid regime. Hence, as part of the outcomes of the World Conference Against Racism, our former President, Nelson Mandela, and the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, co-signed a visionary declaration entitled: “Tolerance and Diversity: A Vision for the 21st Century.” More than 70 heads of state and government signed on this declaration, which opened with the absolutely apt words today. It stated: As a new century begins, we believe each society needs to ask itself certain questions. Is it sufficiently inclusive? Is it non-discriminatory? Are its norms of behaviour based on the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?”

“Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all kinds of related intolerance have not gone away. We recognise that they persist in the new century and that their persistence is rooted in fear: fear of what is different, fear of the other, fear of the loss of personal security. And while we recognise that human fear is in itself is ineradicable, we maintain that its consequences are not ineradicable.”

Mr President,

This year marks the Twentieth Anniversary of the Adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) (Durban+20). We welcome the decision of the General Assembly to hold a one-day high-level meeting to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Durban Declaration in September in New York on the theme: “Reparations, racial justice and equality for people of African descent”. The Declaration is the most comprehensive programme for combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

Nelson Mandela made huge personal sacrifices in his life-long commitment to fighting racism and discrimination. It therefore goes without saying, that the biggest tribute we as this international community can accord him in this regard, is to ensure continued international commitment to, and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, so that we may rid our minds, our attitudes, our communities, and our world of the scourge of racism and all its manifestations.

Mr President,

In conclusion, Systemic Racism has had a pernicious effect on many communities and compounded the impact of the pandemic on its victims. In addressing the issue of security and predictability of the supply of vaccines, at the core of which is the waiver we demand, addressing racism is also critical. When former president of the United States, Barack Obama, delivered the 2018 Nelson Mandela annual lecture, he said that Mandela “understood the ties that bind the human spirit.” He further went on to say that: “There is a word in South Africa — Ubuntu — that describes his greatest gift; his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. As we say: ‘Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu’ or ‘I am, because you are.’ This is how we describe the meaning of Ubuntu. It speaks to the fact that we are all connected and that one can only grow and progress through the growth and progression of others. Ubuntu has since been used as a reminder for society on how we should be treating others.”

For us, ‘Ubuntu’ in the words of President Mandela mean: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

We could not agree more with Dr Tedros, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), when he says: “The pandemic is not over anywhere, until it is over everywhere.”

None of us are safe, until all are safe.

Mr President,

Once more, I thank you for this opportunity.


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