Home / News / Africa / What Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela have in common By Ambassador (Dr) Motumisi Tawana, Consul General of South Africa in New York
Ambassador (Dr.) Motumisi Tawana, Consul General of South Africa in New York, USA, Chair, ACGG, New York

What Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela have in common By Ambassador (Dr) Motumisi Tawana, Consul General of South Africa in New York

Ambassador (Dr.) Motumisi Tawana, Consul General of South Africa in New York, USA, Chair, ACGG, New York
Ambassador (Dr.) Tawana, Consul General of South Africa in New York, USA with 11-year-old Ikenna Obikulu, who played Martin Luther King Jr. at the event

Excerpts from the Remarks by Ambassador (Dr) Motumisi Tawana, Consul General of South Africa in New York and Chairman, African Consuls General Group (ACGG) at the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Event held at Essex County College in collaboration with the ACGG on 24 January 2023. 


Let me first convey our sincere gratitude as the African Consuls General Group (ACGG) to Dr Akil Kokayi Khalfani, the Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Africana Institute, for coordinating such an event to remember one of the iconic heroes of the fight against injustice, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. who, if he was still alive today, would have turned 93 years this month. Unfortunately, his life was brutally taken from us at a tender age of 39 years. However, despite this we all know the legacy of this giant of the civil rights movement. His legacy lives on, hence it is important to continue sharing his values with the younger generations. We are forever grateful for the contribution he has made for the liberation of those that are marginalized by the cruel system. In the case of my country, South Africa, Dr King’s contribution to the betterment of the World is always likened to that of Former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela as well as Bantu Stephen Biko.

When I learnt about the focus of our topic today, which relates to keeping the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. for the younger generations to come, I decided to select 4 (four) attributes that continue to define the life of Dr King, including the life of President Mandela. These attributes include:

  • Commitment to Social Justice: Dr King and President Mandela, never selfishly used their social status by ignoring the injustices that were happening around them. However, they took it upon themselves to have deliberate interest in the liberation of their peoples. Both these icons hated injustice hence their ability to use their status to make an indelible mark in the fight for equality and justice for all peoples irrespective of their colour, gender and social orientation.
  • Visionary and Inspirational Leadership: Both Dr King and President Mandela applied the principles of visionary leadership, which allowed both sides of the system to understand the purpose of their quest for justice for all. We all remember Dr King’s “I Have a Dream” public speech in 1963. We also can vividly remember President Mandela’s ‘I am prepared to die’ speech during the Rivonia trial in 1964. Both speeches were a turning point in the articulation of what both men stood for and where they wished their countries to focus on.
  • Selflessness: Dr King as well as President Mandela could have both pursued their careers and resolved to refuse to forsake their personal comforts. However, they both understood the concept of UBUNTU, which promotes interdependence among humans. As such, both men took so much interest in the liberation of their peoples, thereby risking their lives. We therefore continue to be indebted to them, because today we enjoy all the civil liberties that we have, because they took it upon themselves to fight for the greater cause.
  • Courage: The environment that Dr King and President Mandela operated under while fighting for the liberation of their people, was highly dangerous due to the institutionalized racism and continued systematic suppression of any voices that dared to challenge the injustices of these governments. In fact, President Mandela had something to say about Courage and Fear and how these contributed to his quest for Freedom. He once said, I quote: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

As I conclude, I am encouraging all of us, in particular the youth to continue the legacy of Dr King and other civic rights movement icons (in South Africa we call them Freedom Fighters), it is important to remember what Former President Mandela once said about his involvement in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa:

“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation.”

These powerful words still remain relevant today and should encourage all of us to wake-up and make a difference whenever we can, and in particular stand-up against injustice, racism, poverty, inequality, unemployment and many other degrading social circumstances that most people still face today.

I am however encouraged by our youth around the world and across the racial divide. We have seen them coming together on various occasions to voice their stand against injustice. Who can forget the groundswell of young activists (black and white) that supported the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality directed at certain people of our society. This kind of active citizenry is important, if we are to successfully deal with the continued discriminatory acts against some people around the world, and the youth have a vital role to play in the success of these initiatives, and of course, supported by strategic partners in our societies.

Long Live The Legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Long Live!

I thank you all.


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