UNGA’s International Mandela Day celebrations will include volunteers cleaning a park in Harlem, New York

The Nelson Mandela Foundation created a social media buzz this week when its CEO Sello Hatang confirmed – exclusively on SABC News’s Full View programme – Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, as the keynote speaker for the annual United Nations General Assembly commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day.

Prince Harry will deliver the keynote address at the U.N. General Assembly’s commemoration of Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18th in New York.

Gonna be a media frenzy here at UNHQ. Live coverage on #sabcnews channel pic.twitter.com/PgnOvE21D0

— Sherwin Bryce-Pease (@sherwiebp) July 11, 2022

The annual event follows a November 2009 resolution in the Assembly that declared Madiba’s 18 July birthday an international day in his name, a document that further recognizes the values of South Africa’s first democratically elected President and his dedication to the service of humanity.

This so-called informal meeting of the GA (which is informal only in name) is often viewed as a precursor – perhaps even an opening act- to the annual Nelson Mandela lecture held in South Africa, that this year will be delivered by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley in November.

While the Mottley’s announcement was made at a huge media event at the Foundation’s headquarters to much fanfare, Prince Harry’s confirmation set social media on fire given his and wife Meghan Markle’s very public differences, particularly around race, with members of the British Royal Family. The couple and their two children Archie and Lilibet now live in California.

But whatever the controversy in some quarters around Prince Harry’s inclusion in this UN event, there is less to question in relation to his bona fides with both the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Mandela family. On their recent visit to South Africa in 2019, before their royal ‘break-up’, they met Madiba’s widow Graca Machel whom Harry had visited with on a previous trip in 2015.

The Duke and Duchess also visited a Nelson Mandela Centenary Exhibition at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in July 2018 and who can forget that meeting back in 1997 when Diana – the Princess of Wales and Harry’s mother – paid a courtesy call on Madiba while visiting her brother Charles Spencer who lived in the mother city at the time.

But the real focus of Monday’s event will continue to be the example set by Madiba and what this day has come to mean since its inception over a decade ago, particularly as it relates to the Development Agenda that has faced headwinds from the adoption and onset of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. The Foundation says it will be highlighting food security and climate change during this year’s commemorative events under the tagline “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are’ – issues Prince Harry will surely have to address in his remarks.

He follows the likes of former US President Bill Clinton, the Rev Jesse Jackson and the late Rivonia defendant and struggle icon Andrew Mlangeni who have all spoken at the General Assembly’s annual gathering.

Other speakers this year will include the President of the General Assembly Abdulla Shahid and the Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in addition to Ambassadors speaking on behalf of regional groupings. UN Volunteers including diplomats will also join members of the City of New York and others in a clean-up exercise at a public park in Harlem, north of Manhattan while a pop-up feeding scheme is also expected to cater to the city’s homeless.

Speaking at last year’s event, UN Chief Guterres highlighted how societies were becoming more polarized, with hate speech on the rise and misinformation blurring the truth. He warned that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had made those ills more acute and rolled back years of progress in the global fight against poverty.

Prince Harry speaks a year later when all the indicators have worsened with close to 100 million falling to poverty due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has worsened in part due to the conflict in Ukraine while energy costs and rising inflation are distracting from a growing climate emergency. The Global Annual to Decadal Climate Report points to a 93% likelihood of at least one year between 2022 and 2026 becoming the warmest on record.

With the media attention alone sparked by the anticipation of Prince Harry’s speech, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s masterstroke in securing the 37-year-old should go a long way in attracting a fresh global audience to some of the pressing issues of the day. And if the United Nations loves anything, it’s a re-energized focus on what really matters and the blueprint for saving humanity with the 17 SDGs at its core is no exception.

*Sherwin Bryce-Pease is an SABC News Correspondent and Bureau Chief based at the United Nations in New York 

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