Security Council Reform Ambassador's Speeches

Winnie Mandela - an icon who soldiered to translate into reality the values that diplomats espouse from various podiums at the UN.


Remarks by Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative at the Memorial Service in honour of
Ms. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at the UN Headquarters on April 13, 2018

Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary General,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Rare are occasions that we join together at the United Nations to commemorate a life and mourn the passing away of an icon who soldiered to translate into reality the values that all of us espouse from various podiums in this organisation.

2.    It is, therefore, a privilege and honour for me to join all those who have assembled here to pay homage to the legacy of Ms Winnie Madikizela Mandela, warmly referred  by many of our South African friends as “Mother of the Nation” and affectionately called by millions in South Africa and beyond as “Mama Winnie”.

3.    Many before me have spoken of Mama Winnie’s  unyielding courage in the face of the horrors perpetrated by the apartheid regime. Others have spoken of what her life symbolised in terms of gender equality or social change. All these perspectives are rich portrayals of how a hero is perceived differently depending on which facet one focuses on to highlight a virtue or a shortcoming.

4.    I, however, venture to speak from the vantage point of how Mama Winnie’s struggles epitomised the thinking that permeated many debates at the UN from its early days. 
5.    May I recall that the United Nations General Assembly in its very first session began considering aspects of the issue of Apartheid. The first reference to the pernicious practice that Winnie Mandela fought against all her life was contained in Resolution 103 (I) of 19 November 1946 . The resolution declared, 

“ It is in the higher interests of humanity to put an end to the so called racial persecution”. 

It then called upon all Governments to “conform both to the letter and spirit of the Charter and to take the most prompt and energetic steps to that end”.

6.    Following this, General Assembly Resolutions 395(V) of 2nd December 1950, and 511 (VI) of 12 January 1952, held that the policy of racial segregation or Apartheid is based on racial discrimination. This then led to the affirmation on 5 December 1952 that policies which are designed to perpetuate or increase racial discrimination are inconsistent with Article 56 of the Charter. 

7.    From then on, till 1994, the item on Apartheid figured on the agenda of the General Assembly. 

8.    Even while many of our predecessors here argued against Apartheid as essentially undermining the UN Charter, the definitive battle to rid the world of the evil of Apartheid was fought on the streets of South Africa. It was here that fearless fighters such as Winnie Mandela, faced the violence wreaked by a pernicious regime, even as Madiba and other political leaders were kept locked in the cells of Robben Island or were forced into exile.

9.    So, Winnie Mandela was a fellow traveller of diplomats in the global battle against apartheid. In fact, she was the sword arm whose courage inspired generations of diplomats from many countries, including my own, to join in support of those who fought against Apartheid in South Africa. What we spoke about, she acted upon. What she practiced in South Africa, we preached here at the UN.

10.    It was the fortitude of exemplars of equal rights such as Winnie Mandela that made many of our predecessors here stand firm, for more than 40 years. Our predecessors stood by those like Mrs Winnie Mandela who fought against apartheid in the belief that those who fight for justice, truth and the oppressed, have friends in every country and every continent.

11.    Winnie Mandela’s struggles symbolized hope not only for the people of South Africa or people of the African continent, but also for  people all over the world who cherish equality. By paying tribute to her achievements in the struggle against apartheid, we are honouring the noble values which the United Nations Charter stands for. 

12.    In her demise, South Africa has lost a revered leader, the world of diplomacy a trench warrior, who symbolised the tangible fight against apartheid that diplomats from all parts of the world doggedly pursued here at the UN.

13.    As a country that first brought the issue of racism and racial discrimination to the United Nations, India cherishes Winnie Mandela’s lifelong struggle for equality. In losing her, we have all lost a soldier who had worked relentlessly for the principle that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  

14.    I conclude with a quote from a famous Indian yoga master - Paramhansa Yogananda, which in our view summarises Mama Winnie’s global appeal 

“There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others first; when you learn to live for others, they will live for you.”

15.    It is with this belief we join others in praying for Mama Winnie’s eternal peace.

Thank you.