We have no choice as government but to continue building on his legacy of unifying the nation to build society where race and gender do not define us, says Phumla Williams.
Pretoria - In one of his interviews, Nelson Mandela was asked how he wished to be remembered. He answered with humility: “It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered. I’d leave that entirely to South Africans.”
However, events of the recent past have shown that he “left” it not only to South Africans to decide how he would be remembered, but to the whole world.
This was evident in a number of ways.
When President Jacob Zuma announced that our father of the nation and an international icon had died, the whole country and the world stood still just like it did when he was released from prison in 1990.
His death again served to unite South Africans and many people around the world.
The outpouring of grief and admiration overwhelmed all of us.
It bore testimony that this global icon had not only touched, but equally significant, influenced the hearts and minds of millions of people across the globe.
His contribution to humanity and world peace is immeasurable.
In the words of US President Barack Obama, “he achieved more than could be expected of any man”.
As government we express our sincere gratitude to South Africans for opening their hearts and sharing Madiba with the international community.
The presence of foreign dignitaries at his memorial service demonstrated that he belonged not only to South Africa, but the world.
The struggle was his life; his defiance in the face of persecution for what he believed in won him the hearts and admiration of many around the world.
We are humbled and express our heartfelt gratitude to all South Africans who heeded Zuma’s call to gather in their homes, community halls, churches, mosques, temples and synagogues to pray and reflect on his contribution to the country and the world.
His death gave each and every one of us a sense of personal renewal.
He motivated us to become politically active and ensure we recognise, honour and respect rights, particularly the human rights of all South Africans, and above all sustain our society based on non-discrimination and non-racialism.
For our part, we understand that we have no choice but to continue to follow and build on the legacy of one of the greatest sons of Africa.
His legacy comprises the huge strides we have made as a country towards unifying a nation and a society where race and gender no longer define us.
The government will continue to champion Madiba’s dream of combating the triple challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty facing the country. However, it cannot achieve this by itself; it requires a concerted effort from every South African.
We must, in the words of Mandela, act together as a united people “to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination”.
Mandela’s legacy of a stable and democratic system will help us ensure the economic prosperity for our people.
He will be remembered as part of a collective leadership that laid the firm foundation for our representative and constitutional democracy, based on the will of the people.
Our constitution is the basis that guides all our policies and actions.
South Africans and the world will remember him as someone who gave our citizens freedom and an opportunity to participate in choosing the manner in which the state is governed.
This is in sharp contrast to life before 1994, where the majority had no say in how they were governed.
He empowered citizens to question their leaders and monitor government service delivery and provide input to improve access to, and quality of services.
The 10-day mourning period came to an end on Sunday when Madiba was buried in Qunu, a day before we celebrated Reconciliation Day.
This day is a public holiday celebrated annually.
The celebration started in 1994 to foster reconciliation and national unity among South Africans.
In honour of this legend who refused to be shackled by bitterness and lived a life of reconciliation, the government has unveiled a statue of Mandela at the Union Buildings.
While the statue will be a monument dedicated to his life and contribution to freedom and reconciliation, cabinet has stated that it will also be a collective memorial to the struggles and sacrifices that millions made so that our country could be free.
In addition, the president announced that the amphitheatre of the Union Buildings will now be known as the Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre.
We must use Reconciliation Day to strengthen relations with each other and build a future where we all live together in harmony.
This is in line with the founding values of our democracy to treat everyone equally.
Together we must build a nation that encourages dialogue, fosters social cohesion and celebrates its heritage.
* Phumla Williams is the acting chief executive of the GCIS.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.