During the couple's July 18 visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Duke of Sussex delivered a keynote address in honor of Nelson Mandela International Day—and recalled the moment he knew the duchess was his "soulmate."
While honoring the legacy of the former president of South Africa, Harry spoke about how the continent of Africa has always held a special place in his heart, noting it's where he found peace following the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and where he and Meghan grew their bond while on a trip to Botswana in their early dating days in 2017 (the duke and duchess also traveled to Africa after they wed for a 10-day tour in 2019).
"Since I first visited Africa at 13 years old, I've always found hope on the continent," he said. "In fact, for most of my life, it has been my lifeline, a place where I have found peace and healing time and time again. It's where I've felt closest to my mother and sought solace after she died, and where I knew I had found a soulmate in my wife. And it's why so much of my work is based there. Because, despite continued hardship, there are people across Africa who embody Mandela's spirit and ideals - building on the progress he helped make possible."
At one point during his speech, Harry looked back at a photograph of Diana meeting Mandela during her visit to Cape Town, South Africa in 1997, which occurred about five months before her death.
"When I first looked at the photo, straight away what jumped out was the joy on my mother's face," Harry said, sharing he has the photo framed on his wall. "The playfulness, cheekiness, even. The pure delight to be in communion with another soul so committed to serving humanity."
He then shifted the focus on Mandela in the photograph. "Here was a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, asked to heal his country from the wreckage of its past and transform it for the future," Harry said. "A man who had endured the very worst of humanity, vicious racism and state-sponsored brutality. A man who had lost 27 years with his children and family that he would never get back. Twenty-seven years."
He continued, "Yet, in that photo and so many others, he is still beaming. Still able to see the goodness in humanity. Still buoyant with a beautiful spirit that lifted everyone around him. Not because he was blind to the ugliness, the injustices, of the world—no, he saw them clearly; he had lived them—but because he knew we could overcome them."
Harry further noted the continued importance of Mandela's writings, sharing that he's turned to the late anti-apartheid leader's words during times of uncertainty to understand "how he could experience so much darkness and always manage to find the light." The Duke of Sussex specifically highlighted a letter Mandela wrote from prison in 1970.
Reflecting on Mandela's words, Harry couldn't help but wonder "how many of us would have lost hope, and let our life belts slip away" then and "how many of us are in danger of losing those life belts right now?" Taking stock of what "has been a painful year in a painful decade," Harry spoke about the pandemic, climate change, the spread of misinformation, the war in Ukraine, and the "rolling back of constitutional rights here in the United States."
He then called for change. "This is a pivotal moment— a moment where multiple converging crises have given way to an endless string of injustices—a moment where ordinary people around the world are experiencing extraordinary pain," Harry added. "And in this moment, we have a choice to make. We can grow apathetic, succumb to anger, or yield to despair, surrendering to the gravity of what we're up against. Or we can do what Mandela did, every single day inside that 7-by-9-foot prison cell on Robben Island—and every day outside of it, too. We can find meaning and purpose in the struggle. We can wear our principles as armor. Heed the advice Mandela once gave his son, to ‘never give up the battle even in the darkest hour.' And find hope where we have the courage to seek it."