Speaking affectingly of his love for Africa and the loss of mother Princess Diana, Prince Harry paid tribute to the humanitarian legacy of the late Nelson Mandela at the United Nations in New York Monday, with wife Duchess Meghan in the audience.
Invited to deliver the keynote address on Nelson Mandela International Day, Harry spoke of Mandela’s "vision of a freer, more peaceful world" and highlighted how he connects the South African leader with his mother, mourned after her 1997 death for her own legacy as a humanitarian.
"On my wall, and in my heart every day, is an image of my mother and Mandela meeting in Cape Town in 1997," the Duke of Sussex said, adding that the photo was presented to him and his wife by the late South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu when they met him during their tour of southern Africa in the fall of 2019.
"When I first looked at the photo, straight away what jumped out was the joy on my mother’s face," Harry said. "The playfulness, cheekiness, even. Pure delight to be in communion with another soul so committed to serving humanity."
Mandela was a man with "the weight of the world on his shoulders," Harry said, as he tried to heal South Africa from its racist apartheid past, which included unjustly imprisoning Mandela for 27 years.
"Yet, in that photo and so many others, he is still beaming," Harry said. "Still able to see the goodness in humanity. Still buoyant with a beautiful spirit that lifted everyone around him. Not because he was blind to the ugliness, the injustices, of the world – no, he saw them clearly; he had lived them – but because he knew we could overcome them."
Harry recalled that he first visited Africa when he was 13, after his mother's death, and "always found hope on the continent."
"In fact, for most of my life, it has been my lifeline, a place where I have found peace and healing time and time again," he said. "It’s where I’ve felt closest to my mother and sought solace after she died, and where I knew I had found a soulmate in my wife."
(Harry, 37, and Meghan, 40, began dating in the summer of 2016 and took a trip to Botswana early in their relationship.)
Harry said he was also inspired by Mandela's hopeful writings: Seven years into his prison sentence, he was unbroken by a system designed to break him. As the world confronts multiple challenges, including war, climate change, killer pandemics and even rollbacks of constitutional rights in the U.S., Harry said he turns to Mandela.
"How many of us feel battered, helpless, in the face of the seemingly endless stream of disasters and devastation?" he asked.
Harry especially focused on the climate-change crisis, which he said is affecting Africa with multiple unjust consequences. He said the crisis must be addressed by world leaders to "save humanity."
We can surrender to apathy and despair or follow Mandela's lead, he said. People across Africa embody Mandela’s spirit and ideals and are building on the progress he helped make possible, he said.
"We can find meaning and purpose in the struggle. We can wear our principles as armor. Heed the advice Mandela once gave his son, to 'never give up the battle even in the darkest hour.' And find hope where we have the courage to seek it."
He said true legacy transcends one’s own needs and the passage of time. "Legacy does not belong to the self. It belongs to those it impacts," Harry said.
"So on this Nelson Mandela International Day, as a new generation comes of age, a generation that did not witness Mandela’s leadership for themselves, let’s commit to remembering and celebrating his life and legacy every day, not just once a year, " Harry said.
"Because if we can summon our own courage, just as he did, if we can see one another’s humanity, just as he did, a better day will truly be on the horizon. "
Harry was invited by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to deliver the speech for the Nelson Mandela Prize award ceremony. The prize is being awarded to Marianna Vardinoyannis of Greece and Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté of Guinea, after the 2020 ceremony was delayed due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Prince Harry talks Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela legacies at UN in NY