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Millions of people, not just in South Africa but all over the world, have come to revere Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela. To the people of South Africa he endeared himself as the father of the nation.
“This tall man with a majestic physique, a winning smile and a warm personality which breathed love and affection, found a niche in the hearts of millions of white and black South Africans, from Aan de Doorns in the Western Cape to Mafikeng in the North West and from Mkuze in KwaZulu-Natal to Phalaborwa in Limpopo.
Mandela was ours.
For us in the ANC, he became our teacher and guide. Those who were with him on Robben Island had the privilege of having the teacher present with them. For those who were in exile they had his values and aspirations with them.
But even in his absence, he remained our teacher. And to the millions of South Africans who were inside the country waging a just struggle against apartheid, he was our symbol and hope of liberation.
He won the reverence of the people by the simplicity and austerity of his life. Born of royalty in the Eastern Cape, he abandoned it all to pursue the liberation of his people.
Known not to be awe-struck by royalty, because he was royalty himself, Madiba chose the path of being a servant leader. Instead of being served, he chose to serve. Mandela, through his life, taught us to be servant-first instead of being leader-first. It is a lesson we should cherish and demonstrate as ANC members.
We are in this organisation primarily to serve.
Instead of enriching his own life, Madiba enriched the lives of others, contributed to building a better ANC and ultimately contributed towards creating a more just and caring South Africa. We know the work he did to serve others even after he had left public and political office. Through his school building programme in partnership with corporate South Africa, Madiba demonstrated to us what mattered most to him and what should matter most to us: the growth and well-being of others and the communities to which they belong.
A lawyer by profession who could have built a successful legal firm, he abandoned it all in pursuit of a higher calling and ideal: the liberation of his people. Through his life, Madiba has shown us that if a better ANC is to be built, if a better country is to be built, if a better world is to be built, the most open course is to raise the capacity to serve and to find within us the regenerative force to do so without any prospect for material reward.
Through his infinite and immeasurable faith and confidence in the goodness of others, he extended a hand of friendship to his former jailers and even invited them to co-govern with him.
Some of us might have wondered about the wisdom of his choices but when we look around the world and see what conflict can do to a nation, we should be eternally grateful for the choices Madiba made as a leader. He persuaded us all to break away from fear and oppression of each other.
His faith in the masses was amply demonstrated when Chris Hani was brutally murdered in 1993.
Anger from the masses was palpable and we stood on the brink of racial conflagration.
With the apartheid government having lost legitimacy with the people, it was left to Madiba to calm the masses.
In fact, on the day Madiba went on television to address the nation following the assassination of Hani, that is when he became the president of South Africa, many have said. May 10, 1994 was a formality.
We in the ANC remember with pride that it was our Madiba who in 1994 became the first president of a democratic South Africa. We are greatly humbled and honoured to have given South Africa its first democratically elected president.
It was through and within this great movement that he became politically conscious. It was this eminent son of our movement who, together with his comrades Ashley Mda, Walter Sisulu, Anton Lembede and Oliver Tambo, among others, founded the ANC Youth League.
Our youth have great shoes to fill. Even absorbed as he was in the 1940s in the militancy that is often the defining feature of youth politics, Madiba understood the discipline and responsibility of being a freedom fighter.
Even as he handed over the baton to Thabo Mbeki in December 1997 in Mafikeng, that discipline and responsibility of a leader was still evident. I shall never forget his words. “The time has come for me to take leave. The time has come to hand over the baton in a relay that started more than 85 years ago in Mangaung; nay more, centuries ago when the warriors of Autshumanyo, Makhanda, Mzilikazi, Moshoeshoe, Khama, Sekhukhune, Lobatsibeni, Cetshwayo, Nghunghunyane, Uithalder and Ramabulana, laid down their lives to defend the dignity and integrity of their being as a people
“When we ourselves received the baton from Dube, Sol Plaatjie, Ghandhi, Abdul Abduraman, Charlotte Maxeke, Gumede, Mahabane and others, we might not have fully appreciated the significance of the occasion, preoccupied as we were by the detail of the moment.
“Yet, in their mysterious ways, history and fate were about to dictate to us that we should walk the valley of death again and again before we reached the mountain-tops of the people’s desires. And so the time has come to make way for a new generation, secure in the knowledge that despite our numerous mistakes, we sought to serve the cause of freedom.”
Nelson Mandela is no more. To borrow from his words, the time has come for him to take leave but this time he has transitioned into eternity to join the ANC’s great leaders who went before him.
We mourn him. The ANC mourns him. South Africa mourns him. The world mourns him. His spirit lives on.
With his passing away our responsibilities become the greater.
The most fitting homage that millions of sons and daughters of South Africa can pay to him at this hour is to carry forward his values and rededicate themselves with renewed energy to the cause of a non-racial, non-sexist, united and prosperous South Africa. - Sunday Independent
n Duarte is deputy secretary-general of the ANC.