Nelson Mandela leaves a deep sense of loss at ITU

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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, Mandiba, 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 Mandiba 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.”

Nelson Mandela – 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 countries.

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 Mandiba’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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