Group founded by Nelson Mandela to promote 52 grassroots organisations

Supporting community organisations was response to growth of xenophobia, nationalism and populism

Former Irish president Mary Robinson and Graça Machel, widow of former president Nelson Mandela, join a walk to commemorate what would have been Mandela’s 99th birthday in Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Former Irish president Mary Robinson and Graça Machel, widow of former president Nelson Mandela, join a walk to commemorate what would have been Mandela’s 99th birthday in Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

 

Fifty-two grassroots organisations from around the world are to be promoted by The Elders – a group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela – as part of a year-long campaign to encourage empathy, diversity and tolerance globally.

Speaking at the launch of The Elders’ Walk Together campaign, Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, said supporting inspirational community organisations was part of the group’s response to the growth of xenophobia, nationalism and populism in politics worldwide.

The overall aim of the new campaign is to promote peace, health, justice and equality, which were four crucial areas that underpin an individual’s basic rights, she said.

The group of statesmen and women also gathered at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Tuesday to celebrate their organisation’s 10th birthday. Mandela formed The Elders a decade ago to use its collective experience to promote the shared interests of humanity and universal human rights.

Ms Machel, who is from Mozambique, said The Elders intended to continue his work through its latest campaign, which would celebrate one inspirational organisation each week that is trying to defend basic rights under difficult circumstances.

“Each [community organisation that will be profiled] is working to make progress on basic human freedoms often in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges,” she said.

While the 52 organisations have not all been chosen yet, they are being sourced through The Elders’ global civil society partner networks, including the US-based conflict resolution group Search for Common Ground.

Once chosen the organisations will be profiled on the recently established Walk Together website as part of their efforts to “amplify their voices”, according to The Elders’ spokesperson William French.

Mrs Machel maintained the new campaign is guided by the mandate given to them by Mr Mandela, which was “to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair”.

She went on to warn that xenophobic, nationalist and populist political forces had recently achieved their highest levels of support around the world in decades and they needed to be confronted.

“Authoritarian leaders in every part of the world show increasing confidence in their ability to erode human rights, shrink civic space, and in the worst cases, imprison and massacre their own citizens without fear of reprisal.

“This needs to be vigorously challenged, loud and clear. Without freedom, there will be no lasting peace or security, no justice, no prosperity,” she insisted.

The Elders is made up of former heads of state, peace activists, and human rights advocates, including Kofi Annan, Ban Ki-moon, Desmond Tutu, Graça Machel, Jimmy Carter, Hina Jilani, Ireland’s Mary Robinson, and Ernesto Zedillo.

International businessman Sir Richard Branson, who was a close friend of Mr Mandela’s, was also in attendance at the event. So too were hundreds of representatives of some of Cape Town’s poorest communities.

Ahead of the launch, a large group of people led by The Elders gathered in Cape Town’s central business district for a symbolic march on Nelson Mandela International Day, to honour the global icon, who died in December 2013.