Our greatest gift to Madiba is to do all we can to protect and defend the constitution and deepen our understanding of the principles which underpinned it, says Judith February.
As Nelson Mandela finally came to rest, we too, fell silent for a while on Sunday - a day we will never forget.
After 10 days of catharsis, we awoke on Monday, December 16, just another ordinary country. Nelson Mandela is no longer. Finally, his long walk ended where it had begun: in the achingly beautiful hills of Qunu. It is a sign of his greatness that he chose to be buried in so ordinary and rural a place.
Amid all the political clamour and global celebrity he returned to his roots, combining tradition and modernity as effortlessly in death as he had in life. We watched as military aircraft dipped their wings in honour of this extraordinary human being.
So many stories have been told of Madiba’s common touch, his ability to relate to princes and paupers, and his principles and his integrity – yet, it still seems difficult to put into words precisely what he meant to us all.
Despite the global gaze, this was first and foremost a deeply South African moment even though peoples of the world shared it with us. Our words and tributes seem inadequate for the man who played so pivotal a role in freeing our country.
We mourn his passing because he was part of our story, and we of his. The glimpses of our best selves were on display all over South Africa in the past days.
The military precision with which Madiba was laid to rest, the crowds who lined the streets to watch, our ubiquitous flag, itself the most powerful sign of a nation reborn, and then our rousing anthem, another reminder of the compromises of 1994.
And even more moving were the tributes at the ANC memorial. For all its current faults, it is the ANC to which Madiba dedicated his life. And we cannot forget his heartbroken friends, Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni, such mighty peace-makers and freedom fighters themselves.
How privileged we have been to walk in the shadow of such wisdom and greatness.
But there are several questions we need to ask ourselves as beneficiaries of this powerful legacy. What does it require of us?
There are many things one might say in reply, yet as his grandchild pointed out in her wonderful tribute, Madiba was committed to the rule of law and accountability.
Nandi Mandela interestingly chose to highlight Madiba’s submitting himself to the scrutiny of the Constitutional Court in the Sarfu case as an example of his commitment to an independent judiciary.
It was a powerful and carefully chosen example for these times, whereas Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa said we seem to have “more takers than givers” among our leadership.
And so perhaps our greatest gift to Madiba is to do all we can to protect and defend the constitution and deepen our understanding of the principles which underpinned it.
Madiba understood that the right to vote needed an independent judiciary, a free press, freedom of association, freedom of speech and socio-economic rights for the vulnerable.
When we ask what we can do for Madiba we know it means we have to confront the challenges we face on the shop floor, in offices and in the corridors of power and that we need to defend our constitutional democracy.
Last week, when Tony Weaver, Max du Preez and Moshoeshoe Monare bravely wrote of their deep discomfort and concern at the summary dismissal of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois, they were expressing their discomfort with what appears to be interference with editorial independence and thus the undermining of media freedom as enshrined in our constitution.
There are more questions left than answers in Dasnois’s sudden dismissal, yet given the facts at the readers’ disposal, one cannot help but be drawn to the incontrovertible conclusion that Dasnois has somehow been the victim of her own independence of mind in publishing a series of stories that were less than favourable to the owners of the Cape Times.
Madiba’s legacy demands of each of us that we take brave decisions wherever we may find ourselves. His legacy can never be about kowtowing to the powerful and bending to vested interests.
Alide Dasnois understood that and in asserting her editorial independence she has been true to the spirit of Mandela.
And so it is that the future Madiba dreamt of is now in our hands. If we falter, then the past days of tribute and praise will ring very hollow indeed.
* Judith February is a member of the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution advisory board.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers