Press Release

Call to action for people and planet: Harmonizing Mandela's Legacy with the Sustainable Development Goals

14 September 2023

The SDGs are a global call to action to address the most pressing challenges facing humanity and our planet, from ending poverty and hunger to ensuring gender equality, reversing unsustainable production and consumption patterns, advancing rights and improving governance, protecting and conserving nature, reducing waste and pollution, and combating climate change.

Caption: Wouter Kellerman is a renowned South African musician, flutist and Grammy-award winner pays tribute to Madiba at the launch of the Nelson Mandela SDGs Quotes Booklet
Photo: © UN South Africa

Pretoria - In an effort to foster accelerated individual and collective actions for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations in South Africa and the Nelson Mandela Foundation formally launched the “Nelson Mandela Sustainable Development Goals Quotes Booklet on the 11 September at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The booklet, which was prepared in support of this year’s 2023 SDG Summit to be held at the UN Headquarters in New York from 18-19 September, establishes connections between Nelson Mandela's inspiring calls to action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed for the betterment of humanity and the environment. Participants at the multi-stakeholder gathering ranged from the government, civil society, private sector, the diplomatic community, creative artists as well as women and youth.

 “This is not just about governments and international organizations taking action; it's about mobilizing a whole-of-society contribution. It requires a multifaceted approach that involves various stakeholders, including businesses, individuals, leaders, activists, and communities,” said Nelson Muffuh, UN Resident Coordinator in South Africa.

The SDGs are a global call to action to address the most pressing challenges facing humanity and our planet, from ending poverty and hunger to ensuring gender equality, reversing unsustainable production and consumption patterns, advancing rights and improving governance, protecting and conserving nature, reducing waste and pollution, and combating climate change.

Mr. Muffuh pointed out that the world is currently off track with regards to the necessary progress towards meeting the 2030 deadline. To course-correct and accelerate progress towards these goals, it was imperative that everyone, from member states and businesses to individuals and civil society, plays their part. He thanked the Nelson Mandela Foundation for their tireless efforts and collaboration in ensuring that Madiba's call to action continues to echo in our hearts and minds. “Let us honor his legacy by taking off this mantle of responsibility and actively work towards a world that reflects the values he fought for which include; fairness, justice, cohesion, equality and freedom. The path to a prosperous and sustainable world is paved with the continuation of Madiba's legacy. Be Madiba and act now for people and planet,” he said.

Addressing the delegates at the book launch, Mr. Gushwell Brooks, Head of Mandela Day and Public Outreach at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, underscored the significance of the SDGs in striving for a world characterized by equality across political, economic, and environmental dimensions. He highlighted how this alignment beautifully resonates with Nelson Mandela's enduring legacy. He reminded attendees that the SDGs are fundamentally linked to principles of social justice and the vision that Madiba held dear, in addressing issues like poverty and inequality.

In her remarks, the High Commissioner of Kenya, Catherine Muigai Mwangi, called for the wide use of the booklet as it was a practical tool to facilitate the realization of the SDGs.” Steve Letsike, Co-Chair of the South Africa National AIDS Council and Chair of the Civil Society Forum spoke of the vital role of, and space needed for civil society organizations to play their part in driving innovation to achieve SDGs.

Natania Botha, an environmental and social justice activist, donated a piece of art to the UN as her dedication to SDGs. She called it the “last correspondent,” a mosaic of colors and textures that represents the urgency of the times and a poignant reminder of the tremendous impact of climate change on the planet. “The art piece, a human torso stands boldly in the face of adversity, serves as a symbol of resilience, strength and reminds us that even when the weight of the world challenges down upon us, we must rise unyielding in the face of challenges and hope that one day, we will have the privilege to share the tales of a world renewed with love and care.”

The book launch started with a video message of support from the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed. “The SDGs embody our commitment to end poverty, protect the planet and enhance prosperity and wellbeing of all. We find ourselves playing catch-up in the midway point and now is not the time to be disheartened. It is time to act now, for people and for planet and play our part as our global icon Nelson Mandela once called on us. The wonderful publication using Madiba’s own words to inspire and guide us all in our efforts to achieve the SDGs, is timely. Madiba understood the power of collective and individual responsibility. Madiba’s words remind us that achieving SDGs is not just a responsibility, it is a commitment to the values we hold dear, fairness, justice, and equality. The race is on and it is a race we can and must win. But now more than ever, it is in our hands and it always seems impossible, until it’s done,” echoed Ms. Mohammed.

Representatives from the private sector, civil society, youth share their calls to action by urging their members and communities to act now to attain SDGs by 2030. UN Information Centres (UNICs), including those in Moscow and Brussels, shared videos with messages on the actions they were taking in support of SDGs.

The Grammy-award winner, Wouter Kellerman, strongly believes that music transcends boundaries, builds bridges, and connects people. His call to action at the Mandela SDGs Quotes Booklet was a challenge to all Grammy-award winners and musicians to use their music networks and artistry to push for the attainment of the SDGs. He played a tune in honour of Madiba.

“So much has and continues to go wrong under the watchful eyes of our elders, it is not from a lack of trying but we can certainly say that what is being done is not enough. This then places mandate of getting the accomplishment of the SDGS on the bending shoulders of young people across the world,” said Tebogo Sipung, Executive Director for the Youth Network ACTIVATE. She made a clear call to action saying that young people possess the ability, agility and vigor to make a shift and to flip the pages of history to ensure that no other young person is left behind, in the quest of eradicating poverty and inequality in our lifetime.

Achieng Ojwang, representing the UN Global Compact Local Network for South Africa, highlighted that businesses have placed a strong emphasis on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, 4, 5, 8, and 13. These specific SDGs are set to be assessed to evaluate how effectively businesses are contributing to their achievement. She urged businesses to elevate their efforts, set higher aspirations, and foster greater collaboration with both government entities and within the business community itself. “This collective action is essential in driving meaningful progress towards achieving the SDGs,’ she added.

UN staff members, Dr. Pride Chigwedere from UNAIDS and Nkululeko Mazibuko from the World Food Programme (WFP) in a harmonious duet provided entertainment at the book launch for the participants.

For media enquiries please contact: Eunice Namugwe, UN Information Centre – Pretoria, Email:, Tel: +27 71 6828310

See photos: LAUNCH PHOTOS (Credit phots as follows: UN South Africa/Ropafadzo Chiradza)

Eunice Namugwe


UN entities involved in this initiative

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Organization for Migration
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Information Centre
United Nations Children’s Fund
World Food Programme

Goals we are supporting through this initiative