Trees of peace and reconciliation: Saplings planted in honour of Nelson Mandela Day
Music, sunshine, and an atmosphere of unity were in high supply in Juba on Thursday, as dignitaries and youths came together to mark the tenth anniversary of the Nelson Mandela Day, celebrated globally every year.
Students from Juba University gathered with members of the diplomatic community and politicians to help plant nearly two hundred saplings – donated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – to give life to the legacy of the revolutionary leader.
“Every South Sudanese has experienced, in one way or another the impact of the conflict – maybe a family member was killed, maybe a family member was raped or something," said Jospeh Oliver Wani, a student from the Juba University, expressing the desire by the younger generation in attendance to embrace the change that Mandela envisioned for his countrymen.
"All these things – we were all traumatized – but in one way or another, we have to look beyond just that. We have to forget about what happened and move forward to build our nation,” Joseph underscored.
Notable among attendees was Vice President of South Sudan Dr. James Wani Igga, who exhorted his fellow leaders to continue working together towards a better future, as Mandela had constantly fought for.
"Let us only stand for peace. We can never progress, comrades, we can never move ahead, not even to stability, without peace. Stability is immediately and always followed by development and prosperity. If you undermine stability, you are undermining the prosperity of our country and people," Dr. Igga said.
Also in attendance was African Union Ambassador to South Sudan Joram Biswaro, who recalled his impressions of meeting the late leader upon his release from a decades-long imprisonment and pointed to his deeds as an example for the ages.
"For me, and the African Union, he was a symbol of unity, not only for South Africa, but rather for Africa and the peace-loving world – a source of inspiration to fight for freedom, justice, equality across the board; a champion of democracy, a leader and not a ruler. A beacon of hope. Above all, a man of the people," Biswaro said.
In his remarks on the day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that Mandela's vision for social cohesion and peace is especially relevant today, in light of the growing culture of hate speech around the world. As a result, last month the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech was launched to help coordinate the United Nations' efforts in the identification and prevention of such divisive language.
During the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit held in New York in September last year, 2019 to 2028 was declared the Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace.
Mandela’s legacy of forgiveness and reconciliation serves as an inspiration to the people of South Sudan as they chart their own path from war to peace.