Nelson Mandela leaves a deep sense of loss at ITU
Mandela, champion of downtrodden, wished to bridge digital divide
Geneva, 6 December 2013 – ITU membership, management and
staff join the people of South Africa and the whole world in mourning the
passing of Nelson Mandela, the revolutionary South African anti-apartheid leader
who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and who is hailed as
one of the most transforming personalities the world has ever seen.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in 1918 to the Thembu royal family in
Transkei, South Africa. He spent the better part of his life in an epic struggle
against apartheid in South Africa and served 27 years in prison. In 1993,
Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in dismantling the
shackles of apartheid and, in 1994 he was elected President of South Africa.
During this tenure he was also Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement.
For all his accomplishments as a world statesman, Madiba, as he was fondly
known, will be remembered forever for his deep humanity, his capacity for
forgiveness, and as a champion of the downtrodden.
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré expressed his profound sadness and
extended his heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and to the Government
and people of South Africa. “I have personally looked up to Madiba for
inspiration, as nothing in the world could ever daunt him or hold him back from
his life’s mission to free his compatriots from the yoke of apartheid,” Dr Touré
said. “His towering personality will leave a lasting impression on me, and the
world will forever enjoy the legacy he has left behind in an atmosphere of
peace, humility and forgiveness.”
– Mission to bridge the digital divide
Nelson Mandela was known for his embrace of technology as a catalyst for
change and development. As President of South Africa, Mr Mandela was a strong
supporter of ITU. Speaking at the opening ceremony of ITU Telecom World in
Geneva in 1995, President Mandela said ITU was a body of crucial importance for
the entire African continent. He said, “We need a vast expansion of our
communication and information network and ITU, as the principle driving force
behind international policy, technological development, cooperation and skills
transfer, is an indispensable agent in this regard.”
Mr Mandela went on to underline the importance of communication and access to
information to human beings around the world, and stressed the need to work
towards eliminating the divide between information-rich and information-poor
In 1998, ITU was invited by President Mandela to hold the regional edition,
ITU Telecom Africa, in Johannesburg. “It allows our nation to take its place in
a forum of critical importance to Africa's future. And it is an opportunity to
give practical expression to our desire to be fully part of the rebirth of our
continent,” President Mandela said. “As the information revolution gathers yet
more pace and strikes deeper roots, it is already redefining our understanding
of the world. Indeed, the speed of technological innovation could bring the
ideal of the global village sooner than we thought possible. For the developing
world, this brings both opportunity and challenge.”
As late as 2009, Nelson Mandela continued to support the work of ITU.
Speaking via video link at the opening ceremony of ITU Telecom World 2009, he
underlined that “information and communication technologies are the single most
powerful tool we have for human progress” and urged participants to “support
efforts to connect the world and bridge the digital divide”.
“ITU will remember Madiba’s advice, and we shall continue to strive in our
efforts to connect the world in the spirit of this great son of South Africa and
of the world,” Secretary-General Touré said.
As a mark of respect to honour the passing of this great and inspirational
leader and true champion of digital inclusion, the ITU flag at its headquarters
in Geneva will fly at half-mast.
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Chief, Media Relations and Public Information, ITU