By Linda Bordoni
May 25th is Africa Day. It marks the founding in 1963 of the Organization of the African Unity, which 38 years later evolved into the African Union.
The OAU’s original mission was to bring freedom to African countries that were still under colonial rule in the 60s, defend their sovereignty, uphold human rights and restore the dignity of African people.
The African Union has grown to include the 55 nations of the African Continent, all of whom celebrate their own diverse culture and traditions as well as their unity on ‘Africa Day’, which is dedicated this year to the 100 Years from Nelson Mandela’s birth.
Beyond Africa Day, celebratory events for the Mandela Centenary are scheduled to take place throughout the year, spearheaded by South African Embassies and Institutes worldwide.
They aim to highlight Mandela’s legacy and continue to build the type of society that he worked so tirelessly for.
Linda Bordoni spoke to the South African Ambassador to Italy, Shirish Soni, who emphasized the role played by the Catholic Church in support of the anti-apartheid movement and spoke of how its core values continue to inspire those African leaders and policymakers who believe in building a just and equal society:
Ambassador Soni says Pope Francis is someone who understands the struggle of the poor and of the oppressed and underscores the value of his message which calls on all actors of society to combat social and economic inequality.
Pope Francis and Nelson Mandela: the power of forgiveness
“We believe we have a great leader in the Church, and people in the Church are continuing to do good work and they will partner with various institutions to execute this” he said.
Ambassador Soni says he believes Nelson Mandela’s shining example and Pope Francis’ powerful message of forgiveness and reconciliation resonate strongly with each other.
He remembers being present during many of Mandela’s speeches including one in his own region where, he says, there was much resistance to Madiba’s requests to throw away guns and arms and seek reconciliation.
“His lesson of forgiveness was so powerful” he said, also because it was not instrumental to him gaining votes – in fact it resulted in him losing votes – but he knew it was right.
Ambassador Soni also remembers working with Nelson Mandela and witnessing his deep commitment to serve his people at the risk of his own life.
Building peace and democracy 'brick by brick'
Ambassador Soni concedes that the continent is still wracked by violence and division but says the mission of a militant goes beyond the achievements of his own lifetime and perhaps even of the lives of his children.
“It's work in progress – we have to keep serving throughout our lifetime to build a better world” he said.
The journey and the hard work continue, he said: “Each day we have to place a brick on this wall of peace, democracy, development, security and stability.”