A tribute to Nelson Mandela

Published: 5 Dec 2013

Nelson Mandela meets Award participants in South Africa

Today, on the passing of Nelson Mandela, the Award pays tribute to a wise and wonderful man who has inspired a generation of young people in South Africa and around the world.

President Nelson Mandela was the founding Patron-in-Chief of The President’s Award for Youth Empowerment (the Award in South Africa), a role he embraced from November 1992 as he prepared to become the first president of a democratic South Africa.


His first commitment as Patron-in-Chief was at a Gold Award Ceremony in Grahamstown where he spoke of the importance of youth as the leaders of the future: “In any nation, the youth are the future … for generations, young people [in South Africa] have been deprived of that future; black children have systematically been denied an education, a childhood, or even the of a secure and meaningful adult life. White children, too, have been warped by apartheid, nurtured on racism, turned into soldiers, fearful of black people, fearful of the future.  This ceremony takes place at a time of great challenge for all South Africans, young and old, black and white.... Our country sorely needs young people with responsibility, commitment, dedication and the will to succeed. You and your colleagues throughout this country need to squarely face the challenges of building a new society. This will require strong hearts and a deep commitment, coupled with love and respect for all humanity.”

These words remain as true today as they were back then. His role as a man of immense integrity, who was committed to dialogue between diverse people in South Africa, remained a feature of his leadership until his passing.  He was an icon that all Award participants in South Africa looked up to and revered.

Nelson Mandela and The Duke of EdinburghIn November 2000, the international Award community was honoured to have President Nelson Mandela, along with HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Earl of Wessex, hand out Gold Awards at a historic Award ceremony held at Drakenstein Prison, the very prison that President Mandela had been released from ten years earlier.  At this ceremony, 93 inmates from around the country received their Gold Awards.

Mr Mandela’s last appearance on behalf of the Award was in July 2002, when he presented Gold Awards at St Andrews College in Grahamstown along with TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex. But he continued in the role of Patron-in-Chief of the Award in South Africa until August 2010, at which point  the baton was passed on to President Jacob Zuma at a ceremony held as part of the United Nations International Year of Youth Dialogue Workshop organised by The President’s Award For Youth Empowerment.  President Mandela was represented at this ceremony by his old friend and struggle comrade, Mr Ahmed Kathrada.

Speaking at an earlier Award ceremony in 1996 in Pretoria, Mandela encouraged young people to use the Award to help them achieve their goals in life. “May this Award inspire you to continue in your efforts to draw the most yourselves and to encourage others to do the same. In so doing, you will help build our country.”

Triumph over adversity

“A symbol of triumph over adversity, Nelson Mandela worked tirelessly to extend the rights of people all over the world and saw to it that apartheid would end. As former patron of the Award in South Africa, Mandela was an inspiration to the many participants who were on their own journey of self-discovery. We will always be grateful for Mandela’s work with the Award and the courage he has and will continue to give young people.” John May, Secretary General of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation.

A wise and great leader who stood firm in the face of persecution so that others would be protected from the same cruel fate. May he rest in peace.

Photograph by Shawn Benjamin