Man­de­la on and off sta­ge

George Herald - - Briewe | Letters - Prof Fran­cois Ha­ne­kom

Two in­structi­ons ca­me in u­nex­pected­ly both with hu­ge im­pact.

Fir­st­ly, Pre­si­dent Nel­son Man­de­la was to be our guest for Wor­ld En­vi­ron­ment

Day (WED). Se­cond­ly, we had to or­ga­ni­se e­ver­y­thing. E­ver­y­thing. We soon dis­co­ve­r­ed it was not a "day", but a w­ho­le week full of s­pe­ci­al e­vents.

For the first ti­me the U­ni­ted Na­ti­ons cho­se South A­fri­ca for WED ce­le­bra­ti­ons of glo­bal im­por­tan­ce. The sur­pri­sed host was the na­ti­o­nal de­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs, 1995. Yes, 23 y­e­ars ago.

I re­mem­ber it as cle­ar­ly as y­e­ster­day. We strongly went for the op­por­tu­ni­ty. W­hen, at the end, we saw the in­ter­na­ti­o­nal me­dia com­po­nent off at the ai­r­port, an Aus­tra­li­an jour­na­list de­cla­red it was the best WED that he had e­ver at­ten­ded.

The­re we­re two spea­kers at the main e­vent on 5 Ju­ne - pre­si­dent Nel­son Man­de­la and E­li­za­beth Do­w­deswell, exe­cu­ti­ve di­rec­tor of the U­ni­ted Na­ti­ons En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gram­me (U­nep). He­re we­re two out­stan­dingly u­ni­que per­sons to­get­her on sta­ge, but with the most con­tras­ting li­fe his­to­ries.

She was a u­ni­ver­si­ty lec­tu­rer, ser­ved as mi­nis­ter in the Sas­ka­t­che­wan go­vern­ment of Ca­na­da, la­ter en­te­red their na­ti­o­nal go­vern­ment as de­pu­ty mi­nis­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment. On the in­ter­na­ti­o­nal sta­ge she im­pres­sed, es­pe­ci­al­ly in ne­go­ti­a­ti­ons for shaping the Fra­me­work Con­ven­ti­on on Cli­ma­te Chan­ge.

In 1992, Do­w­deswell was u­na­ni­mous­ly ap­poin­ted as exe­cu­ti­ve di­rec­tor of U­nep, at the very high rank of Un­der-Se­cre­ta­ryGe­ne­ral. La­ter she be­ca­me Li­eu­te­nan­tGo­ver­nor of On­ta­rio. Her work ability was de­mon­stra­ted by her 1 066 of­fi­ci­al enga­ge­ments du­ring the first 18 mont­hs in this post, 711 per y­e­ar! She had the ability to enga­ge with pe­op­le and lis­ten to them, la­ter con­veying o­pen­ly w­hat she had pic­ked up. She was dub­bed "S­tory­tel­ler-in-Chief".

I ad­mit that I had fe­ars on how our new pre­si­dent (a de­pri­ved pri­so­ner for 27 y­e­ars) would shape in the com­pa­ny of vi­si­ting in­ter­na­ti­o­nal s­pe­ci­a­lis­ts, both on and off sta­ge; with li­ve glo­bal te­le­vi­si­on co­vera­ge all the ti­me.

Our coun­try's top re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve, in con­trast to my wor­ries, en­te­red on sta­ge, with gra­vi­tas shi­ning forth im­me­di­a­te­ly. He re­ad his speech (ba­si­cal­ly com­pi­led by of­fi­ci­als) slo­w­ly, but cle­ar­ly. He e­ven pro­ved that he had ma­de it his own with a few o­ri­gi­nal, per­so­nal com­ments.

Ma­di­ba sta­ted that South A­fri­ca shared the con­cern of the glo­bal com­mu­ni­ty for the he­alth of Pla­net Earth. "We ful­ly un­der­stand our e­nor­mous re­spon­si­bi­li­ty to pre­ser­ve a lo­cal bi­o­di­ver­si­ty ma­t­ched on­ly by the rain fo­re­sts of the wor­ld." Al­so off sta­ge, du­ring in­for­mal ex­chan­ges, we could he­ar how aut­ho­ri­ta­ti­ve­ly the pre­si­dent con­ver­sed with the in­ter­na­ti­o­nal VIPs.

He was much mo­re of an in­for­med en­vi­ron­men­ta­list than I had e­ver ex­pected!

Do­w­deswell spo­ke le­ar­ned­ly on in­ter­con­nected the­mes of sus­tai­na­bi­li­ty, en­vi­ron­men­tal ste­wards­hip, in­clu­si­ve e­co­no­mic pro­spe­ri­ty with so­ci­al and cul­tu­ral in­clu­si­on.

"The in­ter­na­ti­o­nal com­mu­ni­ty, thus al­so U­nep, shared the s­pe­ci­al oc­ca­si­on in South A­fri­ca with hu­mi­li­ty and joy". She al­so u­sed words that stay­ed with me e­ver sin­ce: "Sus­tai­na­ble de­ve­lop­ment can on­ly be a­chie­ved by ca­ring hu­man beings.

“Tho­se who ho­pe to he­al the earth must join with tho­se who ho­pe to he­al the souls of our fel­low hu­man beings."

At the ti­me being re­fer­red to, Prof Ha­ne­kom was De­pu­ty Di­rec­tor-Ge­ne­ral for En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs. His co­lumn "Our Wor­ld / Ons Wê­reld" ap­pears in the Ge­or­ge He­rald e­very se­cond week.

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