The Elders

Press release

The Elders honour the memory of their Founder, Nelson Mandela

“Nelson Mandela stands as an inspiration to us all” – Kofi Annan

The Elders are deeply saddened by the death of their founder, Nelson Mandela. They join millions of people around the world who were inspired by his courage and touched by his compassion. All will mourn his passing.

“Nelson Mandela stands as an inspiration to us all” – Kofi Annan

“He was a moral colossus, a global icon of forgiveness and reconciliation” – Desmond Tutu

Nelson Mandela with the Elders, Johannesburg 2010

Nelson Mandela and the Elders in Johannesburg in 2010. (L-R: Graça Machel, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Martti Ahtisaari, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi) Credit: The Elders/Jeff Moore

The Elders are deeply saddened by the death of their founder, Nelson Mandela. They join millions of people around the world who were inspired by his courage and touched by his compassion. All will mourn his passing.

Mandela – or Madiba as he is known in South Africa – called the Elders together in 2007, urging them to be bold, independent and to speak the truth. He told them to be a robust force for good, and to work in the interests of peace for all humanity.

The Elders have taken Madiba’s words as their mission and endeavour to honour his memory in their work. On this sad day they give their love and condolences to his wife Graça Machel, who is also a member of The Elders, and all the Mandela family.

Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, Chair of The Elders, said:

“The world has lost a visionary leader, a courageous voice for justice, and a clear moral compass. By showing us that the path to freedom and human dignity lies in love, wisdom and compassion for one another, Nelson Mandela stands as an inspiration to us all.

“I shall never forget his expansive smile and gentle demeanour, nor his steely determination and wonderful sense of humour. I have lost a dear friend. While I mourn the loss of one of Africa’s most distinguished leaders, Madiba’s legacy beckons us to follow his example to strive for human rights, reconciliation and justice for all.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Chair of The Elders, said:

“God was so good to us in South Africa by giving us Nelson Mandela to be our President at a crucial moment in our history. He inspired us to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation and so South Africa did not go up in flames. Thank you God, for this wonderful gift who became a moral colossus, a global icon of forgiveness and reconciliation. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”

Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, said:

“The most impressive man of my generation has passed away. No one has influenced my life more than President Nelson Mandela. Anyone supporting the just struggle for democratic change in Southern Africa cannot have been untouched by President Mandela’s life.

“When I first met President Mandela, I was deeply impressed. He was a man who had been in prison for 27 years, but after his release did not want to waste his life by feeling bitter about his captors, however justified that would have been.

“Instead he used his enormous influence to build a new South Africa for all her citizens. He taught us what responsible leadership means. His presence was always uplifting. We owe it to him that we will try to follow his example. Today I join the millions who miss him and extend my deepest condolences to his wife and family.”

Ela Bhatt, founder of India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), said:

“The world has lost a great leader. Madiba showed the people of the world that great nations are built with moral courage and collective strength, with justice and equal opportunity, with truth and reconciliation, with love and forgiveness, with vision and wisdom. He was indeed the Gandhi of South Africa. His spirit lives on in the people of South Africa and in the hearts of all who loved him.

“His face is difficult to forget, so kind and so caring. It was his message of Ubuntu that drew me to him and to the Elders. We can do no better than honour his memory by bringing the spirit of Ubuntu to every corner of the world.

“My deepest condolences to Graça and Madiba’s family for their great loss.”

Lakhdar Brahimi, former Foreign Minister of Algeria, said:

“Men and women everywhere feel they have lost someone very close to them, a man they loved deeply and respected and admired profoundly. It was such a privilege to have known him, to have listened to him a number of times, to have participated, however modestly, in his gigantic achievement: the end of apartheid and the restoration of lasting peace and reconciliation in South Africa.”

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, Deputy Chair of The Elders, said:

“Six years after his release from prison, I had the great honour as Norway's Prime Minister, to be the first foreign guest to visit Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and see the tiny cell in which he spent 18 of his 27 years in jail. It was an incredibly moving and unforgettable experience. He embodied the greatness of human dignity and restraint under terrible pressure.

“These personal, unforgettable moments with Madiba fill my heart with joy and gratitude on this very sad and deeply emotional day. No one else in our lifetime has made such a lasting mark on our minds and attitudes, all across the world, as Nelson Mandela.”

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil, said:

“The whole world laments the loss of Nelson Mandela. For us Brazilians and for me personally, his action went beyond the struggle for a free South Africa. It illustrated the struggle to liberate human beings from the shackles both of racism and of revenge.

“On the memory of the beholder – be it a person or a multitude – behind each of his actions loomed the story of a fighter who did not shy away from the challenges of the armed struggle, of a lawyer standing with the humiliated and the offended, of the prisoner who joined his comrades in the hard work of breaking stones, of the political leader that, prior to liberation, refused to compromise but once free called for reconciliation without lies.

“Mandela’s greatness comes from his capacity to show his people and all of us the value of truthfulness, fraternity and the on-going struggle for equality, all this enhanced by his overwhelming simplicity.

“Let us grieve his passing away; let us safeguard his legacy.”

Jimmy Carter, former US President, said:

“I am deeply saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela. The people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world have lost a great leader. His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world’s leading democracies.

“I was gratified to be able to work with him through The Elders to encourage resolution of conflicts and advance social justice and human rights in many nations. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family at this difficult time.”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, said:

“Nelson Mandela was a much loved citizen of the world. His death leaves us bereft – it is felt by all of us as a personal loss. I want to extend my love and deepest condolences to all his family and especially his wife, our fellow Elder, Graça Machel.

“There are so many ways that we will remember Nelson Mandela. His determination and courage in fighting for justice for his people, his moral authority, not least in his forgiveness of his former guards, and his valuing of diversity in all aspects of the new South Africa. From all who ever had contact with him, he commanded enormous respect.

“In old age he became frailer, but his familiar voice was as strong as ever when he wanted to emphasise an issue of injustice, or remind us to listen to those on the margins, and those who suffer.

“It was an honour, and also very humbling, to be invited by Mandela to join The Elders. We will strive to uphold the values of justice, of listening, and of mutual respect for others that he embodied.”


Nelson Mandela and The Elders

Nelson Mandela founded The Elders in Johannesburg on his 89th birthday, 18 July 2007, after the idea was brought to him by the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, he brought together ten ‘Elders’ – independent, progressive leaders committed to peace, justice and human rights – to work together on global problems including peace-building and reconciliation in war-affected regions, sustainable development and equality for girls and women.

The Elders are Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan (Chair), Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland (Deputy Chair), Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Hina Jilani, Graça Machel, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo. Desmond Tutu is an Honorary Elder.

At the group’s launch in 2007, Nelson Mandela called on The Elders to act as “a fiercely independent and robust force for good, tackling complex and intractable issues – especially those that are not popular.”

After founding The Elders, Nelson Mandela did not play an active role, but he remained an Honorary Elder and the inspiration for The Elders’ work. In May 2010, the Elders reunited with Nelson Mandela during one of the group’s biannual meetings, in Johannesburg. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, then Chair of The Elders, said: “It gives us such a strong sense of purpose and determination to sit with dear Madiba who brought us all together.”

Media resources

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Please keep it simple No one in OUR world should die from hunger If you get the chance Feed Hungry People
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Dear Rev. D Tutu! I look forward to seeing you and Ms G Brundtland in Honolulu @Pillars of Peace! I know Ms. Brundtland for her work re North Korea and gender equality! Thank you! www.w4nv.com
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Dear Elders! I am soo looking forward to your presence in Honolulu for Pillars of Peace conference! I've met Ms Brundtland re N Korea issues+ looking forward to improve gender equality+human rights!
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Your message
Happy Mandela day!!! Can we all go out there and help somone who need help in our communities. A small act of kindness go a long way in history.
Collen Saudu
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On the Web
#MyMandela leadership is practicing humility and inner strength
@unfoundation #MyMandela he showed us that even through adversity, anything is still possible
@TheElders #MyMandela means to me human values. We are paying him tribute today because we appreciate his humanity. Let us simply be humans.
All these tributes to Mandela making me tear up. What a man, what a legacy, what an inspiration and what a legend #MyMandela -
Tata was a phenomenal man of courage, love and wisdom! We will carry him in our hearts always #MyMandela
@TheElders Madiba shaped my thinking. By Uniting ppl & finding common purpose one can move the world to b a better place. #MyMandela
@theelders, Mandela means, peace and excellence to me #mymandela... Agoha Obed
@unfoundation #MyMandela He stood firm as a man against giants. He was the light of dawn after a decade of darkness.
@hecticnine9 #mymandela Left us with love....
President @BarackObama: "Like Martin Luther King, #Madiba gave a voice to the oppressed" #MandelaMemorial #RIPNelsonMandela #MyMandela
forgiveness, humility, progress, change, inspirational #MyMandela
#MyMandela is the one who granted me freedom of my dignity... I should fight for my dignity...
@TheElders #Nelson Mandela epitomises the values needed to make the world a peaceful and livable place. #MyMandela
@TheElders I am so grateful to have been privileged to walk this earth while he was in it #MyMandela
#MyMandela showed me what never giving up, no matter what, does to and for your spirit and what authentic forgiveness and courage are. PEACE
@TheElders he stood for integrity, compassion and peace #MyMandela
@TheElders peace & foregiveness #MyMandela
I have an education and speak a european language because he fought for equality #MyMandela
Energy in SA to keep alive Madiba's values is electric! @TheElders #mymandela
Time to re-read #MyMandela's books. Not to learn about him but to learn from him #leadership
The greatest gift he gave me was freedom to know all the amazing people in this land, across all divides. Thats leadership #MyMandela #tata
@TheElders #MyMandela Madiba means knowing what is worth fighting for, sacrificing for, to never give up, and grace in victory.
RT @TheElders: What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
Resilience n selflessness. He is also a good example of someone who lived out his purpose. #MyMandela
We all have a Mandela inside of us. It's up to us if we listen to it & act on it. Thank U Madiba for being a great example 2 me. #MyMandela
You're gone but not forgotten, God bless you, Sir, may He gives you the best place on His side #MyMandela
Nelson Mandela refused to hate, because the content of his character far exceeded that of oppressors in South Africa and America #MyMandela
"The most inspiring individual I have ever met" – Mary Robinson's personal tribute to Nelson Mandela http://t.co/4XMqhKMC… #MyMandela
@TheElders Tata Madiba was colour blind – he didn’t see colour, race, sex or belief – he saw a human being. #MyMandela
@TheElders #MyMandela A warrior of peace and love for mankind.
What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
RT @TheElders: What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
@TheElders #NelsonMandela encompasses everything that is good, in a world that is badly in need of goodness.. #MyMandela
RIP #NelsonMandela. We lost him in the physical realm but his legacy lives boundless in every form of existence. Home at Last #MYMANDELA.
@TheElders #MyMandela Enkosi 4 modeling value of education,how one can rise above any circumstance.Ur sacrifice has earned us opportunities.
My President♥. “Long walk to Freedom Ends for Tata - But It Continues for us.” #MyMandela.
@TheElders "Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for a hermitage" #MyMandela #Madiba
A very remarkable man, altruistic and a philanthropic. We should carry on where he left off or history will be harsh on us. #MyMandela
@TheElders "This man has done his duty to his country and to his people" #MyMandela
@TheElders @VirginUnite That even though it may seem impossible, people can make the world a better place #MyMandela Thankyou Nelson Mandela
@unfoundation #MyMandela to me stands for Forgiveness. For understanding that without forgiveness we cannot move forward towards justice.
@TheElders that each one shouldn't only dwell on what they're against but make known what they stand for. #MyMandela
@TheElders It’s now left for us to learn from the unique example #MyMandela set and preserve his legacy by living in peace with one another.
@TheElders Reconciliation beyond hatred. Patience and sacrifice. #MyMandela
RT @TheElders: What does Nelson Mandela mean to you? Share your tributes with us using #MyMandela
We are honoured to have experienced someone like #MyMandela... Peace & Love is what he lived for, Freedom & Equality is what he fought for.
He did his first freedom speech in Cape Town and he makes his only freedom exit in Pretoria. Even in death he is fair #MyMandela
#MyMandela means to me that I can use the 'first class' carriage on trains to work and home.
"Mandela's most important lesson was that he never sought power for the sake of power." @KofiAnnan http://t.co/FUIjyL3Y… #MyMandela
@VirginUnite @TheElders Words cannot describe my feelings as a South African towards him...perhaps the title 'Hero' comes close. #MyMandela
He was released at a difficult time of my life. Recalling tears I shed that day helped me come to terms with who I was @TheElders #MyMandela
#MyMandela I think his courage, confidence ,his understanding that each individual matters & his belief in the strength of a caring society.
#MyMandela-I was honored to shake hands with Tata. A moment I'll never forget. May ur warm and forgiving spirit live on in us all. RIP Tata.
@theelders As a black South African to me he was the epitome of peace,reconciliation,humility and humanity #MyMandela
#MyMandela. The passing of Nelson Mandela is a great loss. He started The Elders, which I've worked on for 6 years. Amazing man, legacy.
#MyMandela True leadership: selfless, visionary, compassionate, makes the impossible happen, trades short term for long term gain
I can't deal... what a great loss, what a great man, what an amazing human being. #MyMandela #RestInEternalPeace #RIPNelsonMandela
Beautiful tributes from all over the world. Search for #MyMandela Moving and fitting for this great man. #Respect
It doesn't feel real yet that Tata Madiba is gone home to God. He lived his well and will be missed. #MyMandela
@TheElders #mymandela...madiba made me proud to b African as a child..somehow, I just thought he'd always be around. Thank you Madiba

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