The United Nations General Assembly held a special meeting Friday to honor former South African President Nelson Mandela in advance of his 92nd birthday.
The U.N. General Assembly last year declared July 18th as Nelson Mandela International Day. It was set as a day to recognize contributions made by the former South African president to a culture of peace and freedom. At the General Assembly's first observance of the day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, in recorded remarks, that when he met Nelson Mandela, he was struck by his charisma and charm.
But, Mr. Ban added, he was most impressed by his humility. "Nelson Mandela's accomplishments came at great personal cost to himself and his family. His sacrifice not only served the people of his own nation, South Africa, but made the world a better place for all people everywhere. Today, on the first Nelson Mandela International Day, we thank him for everything that he has done for freedom, for justice, for democracy. He showed the way. He changed the world. We are profoundly grateful," he said.
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa's minister of international relations, told the General Assembly that Nelson Mandela's birthday is observed in South Africa by people devoting time to community service. "This service to humanity is what defines the United Nations. By celebrating Mandela Day, we are reaffirming our commitment to the values and mission for which the United Nations was established," he said.
At a news conference, the South African foreign minister urged U.N. member states to secure a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council for South Africa in the years 2011-2012.
Speaking at the General Assembly on behalf of the United States, Ambassador Brooke Anderson said South Africa, once seen as the world's epitome of racism, has now become its paragon of reconciliation.
"Sometimes it takes great leaders to remind us of the truths that we hold self evident. Nelson Mandela is such a leader, and we are fortunate to walk the earth in his days. We hope that this day in his honor will remind all our citizens of his towering, healing and joyful example. When he won his country's first free election on May 2, 1994, then President-Elect Nelson Mandela called the birth of democracy in South Africa a small miracle. It was indeed a miracle, but there was nothing small about it. For that great gift, on behalf of the United States, let me simply say, Mandiba, we thank you," she said.
Nelson Mandela's 92nd birthday is on Sunday.