British Royal Family

Prince Harry Honors Legacy of Nelson Mandela in UN Speech: ‘Never Give Up the Battle'

The Duke of Sussex noted the world still faces the same challenges that were around during Mandela’s life, including racial intolerance, the divide between rich and poor, hunger and food insecurity

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Britain’s Prince Harry addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Monday at its annual celebration of Nelson Mandela International Day, paying tribute to the legacy of the South African anti-apartheid leader who spent 27 years in prison and became his country’s first Black leader.

"Those of us not fortunate to know Mandela well, have come to understand the man thru his legacy, the letters he wrote alone in his prison cell, the speeches he delivered to his people, and those incredible shirts that he sported," Harry said.

The 37-year-old Duke of Sussex recalled a photo of his late mother, Princess Diana, and Mandela taken in Cape Town in 1997, not long before her death. Harry said the photo, which was given to him recently by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is "on my wall and in my heart every day."

"When I first looked at the photo, straight away what jumped out is the joy on my mother's face," Harry said. "The playfulness — cheekiness, even. The pure delight to be in communion with another soul so committed to serving humanity. Then I looked at Mandela. Here was a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, asked to heal his country from the wreckage of its past and transform it for the future.”

Later in his speech he noted the world still faces the same challenges that were around during Mandela’s life including racial intolerance, the divide between rich and poor, hunger and food insecurity, war and climate change.

"This has been a painful year in a painful decade. We're living through a pandemic that continues to ravage communities in every corner of the globe; climate change wreaking havoc on our planet, with the most vulnerable suffering most of all; the few weaponizing lies and disinformation at the expense of the many, and from the horrific war in Ukraine to the rolling back of constitutional rights here in the United States, we are witnessing a global assault on democracy and freedom, the cores of Mandela's life," Harry said.

He said people can surrender to apathy and despair or heed the advice Mandela once gave his son: "Never give up the battle even in the darkest hour, and find hope where we have the courage to seek it."

“I’ve always found hope on the continent," Harry said of Africa, noting the special place it hold in his heart. "In fact, for most of my life, it has been my lifeline, a place where I have found peace and healing time and time again. It’s where I’ve felt closest to my mother and sought solace after she died, and where I knew I had found a soulmate in my wife.”

Harry was accompanied at the U.N. by his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. A former actress, she spoke at a conference at U.N. headquarters organized by UN Women on International Women’s Day in 2015, before her marriage to the prince.

The General Assembly established July 18 -- Mandela’s birthday -- as an international day to honor him not only by celebrating his life and contributions but by carrying out the tradition of participating in a community service activity.

Other speakers at the event included assembly president Abdulla Shahid, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, New York Mayor Eric Adams and Guinea’s Foreign Minister Morissanda Kouaté.

Harry and Meghan visited South Africa in 2019 with their son, Archie, on their first official tour as a family before they gave up royal duties. Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana, met Mandela in March 1997, just five months before her death in a car crash in Paris.

In January 2020, the couple stepped down as senior members of the royal family and moved to the duchess’ native Southern California, where they continue to live with their two children.

The Associated Press/NBC
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