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South Africa's Ambassador to the US, Elder Bednar switch on the Christmas lights

Ambassador hails the Church's contribution to South Africa

South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Mninwa Johannes Mahlangu joined Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to illuminate more than 650,000 Christmas lights at a historic event held at the Washington D.C. Temple’s Visitors Centre on November 28, 2017.

The annual event, which was streamed on Facebook Live, drew other top diplomats, government officials and opinion leaders from around the world. This year's event marked the 40th Lights Lighting Ceremony.

Ambassador Mahlangu became the first ever diplomat from Southern Africa to turn on the switch. He thanked the Washington Office of International Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for organizing the illustrious event.


Before the lights were turned on, Ambassador Mahlangu and Elder Bednar each offered brief remarks. The Mormon Choir of Washington provided the music.

Ambassador Mahlangu was introduced by U.S Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona, whilst Elder Bednar was introduced by distinguished business leader and executive J.W. Marriott, JR, currently the Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Marriott International Inc., the world’s largest hospitality group.

South Africa

In his remarks, Ambassador Mahlangu said it was a tremendous honour for him to represent South Africa at the Christmas lighting ceremony and deliver a keynote address.

“The Festival of Lights carries for me deep spiritual meaning and serves as a reminder to my own country, that light can prevail over darkness, and goodness over evil,” said Ambassador Mahlangu.

“The people of South Africa have a long-standing bond of friendship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has played an important role in an ongoing struggle to overcome race and cultural barriers,” he added.

Ambassador Mahlangu went on to say that he had fond memories of his February 2017 visit to Salt Lake City, where he met with some of the leaders of the Church, toured the Missionary Training Centre in Provo, enjoyed the music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and delivered a memorial lecture on the legacy of anti-apartheid stalwart OR Tambo.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is celebrating an amazing (more than) 160 years of history in South Africa, and the country is the home of Africa’s first Temple (The Johannesburg South Africa Temple), which I visited in July.”


Durban Temple

Ambassador Mahlangu also commended the Church for the progress of the construction of the nation’s second Temple in Durban, but admonished that Cape Town also needed a Temple. “I know it’s not in your plans but I am diverting your plans to build one in Cape Town as well,” he remarked to laughter. “Because I think that’s exactly what we need.”

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a true and venerable friend of South Africa by uplifting poor communities, building young leaders, advancing educational opportunities, improving access to healthcare and by strengthening families and communities. We sincerely thank you for the good work you’ve done in South Africa,” Ambassador Mahlangu said.

In his brief remarks, Elder Bednar thanked all those present, and reflected on the importance of the symbols of Christmas.

He taught that the Star as a symbol of Christmas symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem which guided the three wise men to baby Jesus Christ as they brought gifts. “It reminds us to follow the light of the Saviour just as the wise men followed the light of the Star to find and to come unto him.”

Symbols of Christmas

Bells, Elder Bednar said symbolized the announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“The colour red as the first colour of Christmas red represents the sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ to redeem us from death and sin. As the son of God, Jesus paid a debt He did not owe because we owed the debt we could not pay. The colour red reminds us that Christ is the root word in Christmas.”

The trees and colour green, Elder Bednar said represent everlasting life. “A green thriving tree in the dead of winter reminds us of hope and new life. Because of Jesus Christ we can have everlasting life, thus the evergreen tree is a natural symbol of Him and His gift to us.”

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