Johannesburg - Anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada paid tribute on Friday to former president Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday night.
“While we may be drowned in sorrow and grief, we must be proud and grateful that after the long walk paved with obstacles and suffering, we salute you as a fighter for freedom to the end,” he said in a statement issued by the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
“Farewell, my elder brother, my mentor, my leader. With all the energy and determination at our command, we pledge to join the people of South Africa and the world to perpetuate the ideals and values for which you have devoted your life.”
Kathrada said he and Mandela used to refer to each other as “Madala”, which means old man.
“It became our standard form of informal address. To me it signifies mutual trust, respect, liking, and close comradeship.”
In a wider sense, he said this one word encapsulated the qualities that set Mandela apart from other men.
“Foremost is your sincere and consistent ability and skill in relating as equals to fellow beings from all walks of life - royalty, peasants, prime ministers, business people, presidents, workers, scientists, the illiterate, children, men and women Ä you treat and regard all as equal and equally deserving of respect, decency, and dignity,” he said.
“You embodied the epitome of respect for your fellow beings, and the ability to relate easily to every strata of society.”
Kathrada recalled his first encounter with Mandela when he was a teenager.
“What sticks in my memory is: Here I was, a mere 16 or 17-year-old high school kid, and you at university. There were just a handful of students at Wits University who were not white. And my meeting with you became special,” he said.
“Our little time together was sufficient for me to boast to my schoolmates about this university student who showed so much interest in me… He put me completely at ease and made me feel part of the adult conversation.”
Kathrada said this was the start of a closer friendship.
“One of your very important qualities that stands out is your self-confidence and absence of pettiness,” he said.
“It is for these qualities that, in your illness and death, you once more unite a huge diversity of people in the goodwill, good wishes, and prayers of the people of our country, and indeed, of the entire world.”
Despite heavy expectations, Mandela had exceeded the dreams of South Africans by providing vision, lack of self-interest, cohesion, peace, and love.
“Your term as president and your gracious departure only built on the unshakeable foundations of what you have forged. South Africa, Africa, and the world embrace you.
“In death, you once more challenge people from every strata, religion, and position to think about how their own actions do and can change the world for better or worse.”
Kathrada and Mandela had known each other for 67 years.
“I never imagined I'd be witness to the unavoidable and traumatic reality of your passing,” he said.
“My visit to you in hospital was filled with an overwhelming mixture of sadness, emotion, and pride. At the same time, it was profoundly heart-breaking and brought me to the verge of tears when my thoughts automatically flashed back to the man I grew up under.”
Kathrada said Mandela had left the world to join the “A-team” of the struggle - former apartheid activists who had already died.
“You have left us to join the A-Team of our struggle: Chief Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Yusuf Dadoo, Jack Simons, Moses Kotane, Bram Fischer, Monty Naicker, JB Marks, Helen Joseph, Rusty Bernstein, Ruth First, Joe Slovo, Professor ZK Matthews, Beyers Naude, Lilian Ngoyi, Ma Sisulu, and Michael Harmel,” he said.
“You are the last of the A-team to leave us.”