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Mandela has defined the very meaning of sacrifice that Christ expects of all of us, says Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.
The whole world is in sadness as we mourn the passing of Tata Madiba – the father of our nation. The outpouring of emotion from all parts of the world over the last few days is what was to be expected of someone who has contributed immensely as he has.
He has defined the very meaning of sacrifice that Christ expects of all of us when he extols us to be willing to lay down our lives for those we love.
Madiba has done that for all of us. He endured lifelong imprisonment, yet had no bitterness in him. He redefined the very meaning of servant leadership at the same time. While he was no saint, he is the one symbol we can hold out as a example of political morality.
Sadly, this virtue is seen to be declining every day, with daily reports of those who would rather not live according to his values.
For the celebration of his life to be truly meaningful, we have to use this passing of Madiba to make a fresh start. We need to see his passing as an opportunity to reflect on his extraordinary life. We have to use this time to hold him up as our mirror and answer the question: “Are we worthy of him having been in our midst?”
If we don’t do that, we will waste this historic juncture. Madiba was a decisive leader – able to enforce discipline, and able to be disciplined himself. He knew when to make calculated political and moral decisions, as evidenced by his courage to lead the ANC and the country into armed struggle, but also having the courage to know when it was time to suspend such struggle.
This leadership trait is what will make him stand head and shoulders above many world leaders of his time.
He is easily the most charismatic leader of our century, with his story of perseverance and courage being synonymous with the hunger of a people for freedom. It is clear that our history cannot be told if his story is not told.
Having the courage of his convictions, instead of simply cowering under popular sentiment or fearing to face his apartheid accusers, in fact resulted in him receiving a life instead of a death sentence. Such was the moral high ground he occupied, he was able to reach even the most stubborn of conservatives.
In many ways, his defiance of his comrades, who were sceptical of his conducting private talks with the National Party government to break the impasse, has paid off and shall remain a huge lesson the world over about how the pen is mightier than the sword.
What is left for us to do is to follow his example of love, compassion and moral rectitude, so that we can rebuild in his honour the collapsing moral fibre of our nation.
The celebrations of his life must help us focus on lasting solutions for the problems our society is facing.
Our holding of Madiba in high regard must translate into us building on the project of reconciliation, as well as compassion for the poor and the downtrodden. We have to deliberately reach out to others and destroy the fears that may be there about the fact that the father of our nation is no more.
Similarly, we need to deal with the things that shame us as a nation – things that Madiba would never have been proud of. The corruption that is eating away at the fabric of our society cannot exist side by side with the values he represented.
The emphasis on the respect for the dignity of all people has to be lifted higher on the agenda of this fresh start that the passing of Madiba gives us.
His death comes at a time when we are preparing for the birth of our Lord. This is not by coincidence, and sends a message of hope for the people of our country. Mandela must live on in all of us – he must live on in the manner that we carry ourselves into the new era for our country. We are blessed that, after he spent so much time in prison, the good Lord spared him for another 23 years so that you and I could enjoy his presence. In that time, he has sent us eternal lessons of humility, governance, honesty and a service orientation. We know very clearly what will and will not build a monument to his positive remembrance.
The name Nelson Mandela is synonymous with the struggle for human rights, freedom and the fight for democracy, issues that resonate just as strongly today as they did when he himself walked free from prison 23 years ago. Today, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is revered around the world as an inspirational symbol of peace and forgiveness, and acts as a powerful and continuing reminder that individuals do have the power to make change happen in the world, no matter how mighty the obstacles might be.
Perhaps his greatest legacy to the world can be summed up by the continual inspiration he has provided as one leader who has worked tirelessly to make change happen by appealing to people’s common humanity and leading by example, to many other leaders around the world who are still trying to achieve such change in their own political and social environments.
Generations to come will ask what we all learned from this hero in our midst. We will be judged quite harshly if we do not use this moment to make a fresh start.
Finally, let us keep Madiba’s family in our prayers as they mourn. They have to be commended for sharing such a legend with us.
n Makgoba is Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town