Antonio Guterres spoke by video link to an audience around the globe on Saturday in a lecture celebrating the life of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
He said the Covid-19 pandemic had reinforced and exposed existing disparities in society.
“Covid-19 has been likened to an x-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built. It is exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere,” Mr Guterres said.
“While we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts while others are clinging to the floating debris,” he added. “Inequality defines our time.” The UN secretary general used the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture to lay out the myriad ways inequality has manifested around the globe.
He highlighted the impact of inequality – from patriarchy and racism to income disparity, the digital divide and inter-generational disparity – on the well-being and future of people across the world.
Mr Guterres referred to the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements as instances where the status quo was being rejected.
“Women everywhere have called time on one of the most egregious examples of gender inequality: violence perpetrated by powerful men against women who are simply trying to do their jobs,” he said.
“The anti-racism movement that has spread from the United States around the world in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing is one more sign that people have had enough,” Mr Guterres added. The UN secretary general painted a grim global picture, saying countries faced the deepest recession since the Second World War, and the broadest collapse in incomes since 1870. One hundred million more people could be pushed into extreme poverty, he said.
However, the coronavirus pandemic also offered an opportunity, Mr Guterres said. “Covid-19 is a human tragedy. But it has also created a generational opportunity,” he said.
“An opportunity to build back a more equal and sustainable world. The response to the pandemic, and to the widespread discontent that preceded it, must be based on a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal.”
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the gathering, celebrating the legacy left by Nelson Mandela and leading tributes to his daughter Zindzi Mandela who died this week.
“This year's Nelson Mandela day is tinged with sadness. It is with profound sorrow that we received the sad news of the passing of Zindzi Mandela,” Mr Ramaphosa said. "Zindzi Mandela was a brave activist when her father was in prison and endured the hardships of banishment and harassment.
"She served her country and her people with distinction as South Africa's ambassador to Denmark. We are saddened by her passing,” the South African president said.
Yesterday the winners of the Nelson Mandela Humanitarian prize were announced. Morissanda Kouyate received the prize for his role in promoting a world free of violence against women and girls in Africa, alongside co-laureate Marianna Vardinoyannis, a Greek philanthropist and world advocate for human rights and children’s welfare.
On Monday, The UN General Assembly will hold a session to commemorate Mr Mandela and to recognise the two prize-winning laureates. The assembly will be addressed by its president Tijjani Muhammad-Bande as well as Mr Guterres.
The UN General Assembly first declared July 18 Nelson Mandela International Day in 2009. It is the same day on which Mr Mandela was born in 1918.
The resolution recognised Mr Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity in conflict resolution, race relations and other areas.
The resolution also acknowledged his contribution to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world, the UN said.
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