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In the face of today's existential threats, we must draw strength from Nelson Mandela's legacy

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Photo: Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images
To mark Nelson Mandela Day, Mary Robinson, Graça Machel and Gro Harlem Brundltand reflect on his enduring legacy and the importance of his wisdom in addressing the greatest challenges facing humanity today.


Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former President of Ireland, said:

Much has changed since Madiba first brought The Elders together over fifteen years ago, yet his message of hope remains as vital today as it ever was.

With climate change devastating lives and livelihoods, a pandemic that killed millions, and a war in which the dangerous use of nuclear weapons has been openly raised, ethical and compassionate leadership is urgently needed to address the existential threats we collectively face. Yet these values are too often lacking among leaders today.

Nelson Mandela’s example should shine through as a model for a better way. As he knew, it is always people – ordinary people – who pay the highest price when leaders fail to act. The mandate he gave our group all those years ago continues to be a responsibility to not look away from crisis, but to stand up and speak out. As Elders, we do not take this lightly and, just like Madiba, we will never lose hope. Our best future can still lie ahead of us.

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Mary Robinson with Nelson Mandela and fellow Elders at the launch of The Elders, 2007.


Graça Machel, Co-Founder and Deputy Chair of The Elders and Founder of the Graça Machel Trust, said:

Nelson Mandela was guided throughout his life by his unwavering values of equality, justice and compassion. For him, these values were never just proclaimed with grand words, he lived by them. He believed deeply in human capacity for kindness. He stood for peace and justice. He never bowed to pessimism. He always stood up to impunity.

When Madiba and I founded The Elders in 2007, we did so with the southern African concept of Ubuntu in mind. This awareness of our shared humanity, that he knew and felt so deeply, is needed desperately today. It is up to us now to live his legacy. The fairness and justice in the world we seek is in our hands.

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Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel together in their stateroom on the Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner, 1998. Photo: Louise Gubb/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images


Gro Harlem Brundltand, member of The Elders and former Prime Minister of Norway, said:

When Nelson Mandela invited me to join The Elders in 2007, I could have never imagined saying no to his offer. His legacy was inimitable, and the grace of his leadership was unparalleled.  

While Mandela is no longer with us, the great lessons in leadership that he taught us and the invaluable wisdom he imparted remain. He believed that it was possible to address the greatest threats facing the world, if only we all work together.

While today’s challenges may be different, our group continues to act under the mandate he gave us those years ago: to use our collective experience to help make the planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live. We will keep holding global leaders to account on the most urgent issues we collectively face, so we can one day reach the safe and just future Mandela always imagined.  

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Gro Harlem Brundtland with Nelson Mandela and other Elders in South Africa, 2010.

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