Nelson Mandela International Day: Biden celebrates former South African president as “truly transformative leader” who “fought apartheid” and presided over “new, democratic constitution for all”

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Saturday night celebrated the former South African President Nelson Mandela as “a truly transformative leader” who “fought apartheid, presided over a new, democratic constitution for all the people of South Africa, and showed the world the power of leadership that prioritized human dignity above all.”

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the May jobs report on Friday, June 4, 2021, at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the May jobs report on Friday, June 4, 2021, at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

For the past 12 years, July 18 has been celebrated as the Nelson Mandela International Day to honor his memory.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison split between Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison, and was elected President after he was released. Rather than pursuing vengeance, Mandela worked to bring all South Africans together.

Biden said “Mandela’s commitment to justice, peace, and democracy allowed him to build bridges that spanned the artificial lines and divisions that tear people apart.”

The American leader wrote, “For the last 12 years, the world has celebrated July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day to honor the memory of a truly transformative leader and to shine a light on the legacy of South Africa’s first President elected by its citizens of all races. Nelson Mandela fought apartheid, presided over a new, democratic constitution for all the people of South Africa, and showed the world the power of leadership that prioritized human dignity above all—that lifted up the rights of everyone rather than seeking to elevate oneself. Today, I join people around the world in commemorating and honoring Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary global legacy by renewing our commitment to root out systemic racism and to champion equity and equality for all people.

“Mandela’s commitment to justice, peace, and democracy allowed him to build bridges that spanned the artificial lines and divisions that tear people apart. Through dialogue, partnership, and respect for the capacity of every individual, he helped deliver a rainbow nation of all South Africans that was able to grow and thrive—but the work he began is never finished. I extend my condolences to the families of the victims of recent violence in South Africa. South Africa’s efforts to heal divisions are Nelson Mandela’s legacy carried forward, and it is in this spirit we reiterate our unwavering support to equity, peaceful dialogue, and respect for the rule of law.

“On behalf of the people of the United States, we honor Nelson Mandela, and his vision for Africa and a brighter world.”

President Biden’s message comes as South Africa faces new challenges, including the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma, who along with Mandela resisted white oppression.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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