Picture: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters

If all South Africans haven’t truly grasped what Madiba’s legacy means to the world, they will next week when a statue of Madiba is unveiled in the foyer of the United Nations in New York. 

Mandela will stand as the only world leader to ever be honoured in such a way, in what can only be seen as global recognition of an icon who will forever represent a true and lifelong dedication to the struggle for human rights, democracy, and reconciliation. There is no such statue to any other freedom fighter from modern contemporary history, so let’s face it - we have a lot to be proud of. 

This year, more than any other, we were looking to restore South Africa’s moral high ground, our place in the world, and for people to remember us as the nation that produced Madiba. Our track record in recent years may have been less than savoury, but our struggle to overcome four and a half decades of brutal apartheid rule and our attempts to find a way to reconcile with each other and our past must surely count for something. 

By having the UN General Assembly honour Madiba in the year of his centenary in such a symbolic and meaningful way, is also a chance for us to restore our own commitment to those very values and principles he stood for. We can again be the nation that inspires the world, that stands on a hill as a shining a light to the nations - an example for other nations to emulate as they chart their own paths out of civil conflict and repression. 

When veterans of our struggle used to fan out across the globe in an effort to share the South African experience in conflict resolution, power sharing, and reconciliation, protagonists used to sit up and listen. The South African ‘miracle,’ or so it was depicted, was what people at war with each other in Sri Lanka, Colombia, Nepal, Sudan, the DRC, Northern Ireland, East Timor, Kashmir, Palestine, and countless other civil conflicts used to look to as a potential way out of their quagmire.

For all our shortcomings and simmering tensions, our country was truly inspirational, and it still is. In recent years it had become harder to sell the South African miracle, as our detractors would point to rampant corruption, cronyism, and the masses who are yet to share in the dividends of peace.

The United Nations building is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City. File picture: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

But a new administration has been given the chance to right the ship and prove that South Africa can be great again - not to steal an expression from a less than inspirational world leader. 

What I hope comes out of the grand unveiling next week at the UN, and the ensuing Nelson Mandela Peace Summit which South Africa has initiated at the UNGA is that as South Africans we start to believe in ourselves again, as a nation of hope. 

Instead of tearing apart the fabric of social cohesion that Madiba tried so painstakingly to build, it would be so inspirational if in the race for political votes in the run-up to our next elections, our political leaders could start preaching Madiba’s doctrine of racial reconciliation, while also talking about the need for economic liberation. 

There is no reason why we can’t have both. In fact, to have one without the other will never lead to peace and social stability. Without becoming conspiratorial, we must remember that there are conservative political forces beyond our borders that would like to see the South African miracle fail dismally. Whatever drives that agenda, it is a destructive one, and we need to collectively fight against that negative energy. 

On Monday 130 world leaders and representatives of 11 international organisations will step up to the podium at the UN and make speeches at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit. One after the other will hail the legacy of Madiba, and what it has meant not only for South Africa but for the world. For anyone watching live coverage starting at 4:30 pm South African time, will likely find their eyes welling with tears at some point during this historic session, which will surely restore our national pride. 

Now it is up to each one of us to make that legacy real in our own country, and do something more than 67 minutes a year towards social upliftment. If Madiba were here he would want us to make a greater effort to show compassion for our fellow compatriots and to make a genuine effort to integrate with communities that are different from our own and show that “I am because you are,” in the true spirit of Ubuntu.

* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor