01.11.2014 - UNESCOPRESS

Homage to Nelson Mandela at launch of UNESCO’s 70th anniversary celebrations

© UNESCO/L. RukingamubiriThe introductory speeches to launch celebrations marking UNESCO’s 70th anniversary were followed by several performances from artists including the Mahotella Queens group from South Africa; Cameroonian singer Sally Nyolo, accompanied by Sand Art artist David Myriam; choreographer Sam Tshabalala and his dancers; and Mory Kante. Lakhdar Brahimi, former Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in South Africa, read a passage from his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”. (31 October 2014)

The powerful legacy of Nelson Mandela provided the backdrop for the launch of celebrations marking UNESCO’s 70th anniversary, which kicked off at the Organizaton’s Paris Headquarters on the evening of Friday 31 October. In the presence of numerous personalities including the President of Haiti Michel Martelly, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova opened the event with a stirring tribute to Mandela, which was followed by several outstanding artistic performances.

The Director-General described Nelson Mandela as “a man of universal significance,” who “embodied UNESCO’s ideals, our faith in human dignity, our belief in the ability of every women and man to change society through tolerance and peace.” 

President Martelly, the guest of honour at the ceremony, joined his voice to the Director-General. “Today the world is under serious threat,” he said. “People are increasingly radicalized. We need another Mandela to help us overcome extremism and fanaticism, before it’s too late. ” 

In 1991, along with Frederik de Klerk, the first post-apartheid President of South Africa was awarded the Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize. Mandela was also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

The introductory speeches were followed by several performances  from artists including the Mahotella Queens group from South Africa; Cameroonian singer Sally Nyolo,  accompanied by Sand Art artist David Myriam; choreographer Sam Tshabalala and his dancers; and Mory Kante. Lakhdar Brahimi, former Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations in South Africa, read a passage from his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”.  

UNESCO was founded on November 4, 1945, in the immediate postwar period, to develop the "intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind." Initially the organization had only 20 Member States. Today, there are 195, which makes it a truly universal body working to overcome illiteracy, develop the empowerment of women, encourage scientific exchanges, and promote culture and freedom of expression.

“In 1945, in a world destroyed physically and morally, facing the imperative of reconstruction, the founders of UNESCO reinvented the foundations of peace – declaring this must be built in the minds of women and men, through education, through the dialogue of cultures, through scientific cooperation, through freedom of expression,”   said the Director-General.

"Today the world faces new and steep challenges, and we need to respond with the same courage, the same audacity the same vision – because violence today is directed against schools, against cultural diversity, against freedom and human rights,” she added.

 The ceremony marked the start of celebrations that will continue throughout 2015. Among the many celebrities who attended were Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s Minister of Arts and Culture; Professor Iba Der Thiam,  representing  President of Senegal Macky Sall; Hao Ping, President of UNESCO’s General Conference; Sameh Amr Mohamed, Chairman of  UNESCO’s Executive Board; and Jean Chabi Orou, Ambassador of Benin and President of the Africa Group at UNESCO.

The event was graciously supported by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyannis of Greece and the Delegation of China to UNESCO.




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