Nelson Mandela. Picture: Reuters

JOHANNESBURG – Excellencies, my modest contribution to this invitation has gotten me out of my depth as I sought to search for meaning in reflecting and representing Madiba, who now more than ever lives among us for 100 years today.

His life represents inspiration and hope over despair, victory of good over evil, superiority of mind over matter, life of empathy over crass materialism, the being of shining light instead of cursing darkness, the power of forgiveness as remedy than of brute punishment, the wisdom of vision over glutton, the heart of humility over arrogance, the commitment to transparency over subterfuge, the courage of trust over deception, bravery over cowardice, enlightenment over ignorance, detailed planning over cavalier and caprice, and above all the power of love over hatred.

The question is how have you and I lived our 100 years with Madiba and how do you and I intend living the future with Madiba?

I would like to take you through the omnipresence of this Tembu lad who became a gift to the universe.

Even as Elon Musk plans the great escape to Mars, he cannot escape the omnipresence of Madiba. He is bound to take him with him on this treacherous mission.

I had a less adventurous mission than Musk, but within my means it was daunting. The assignment of searching for truth through numbers in post-apartheid South Africa was both a tall order as well as humbling.

I needed Madiba’s wisdom, which inspired my actions and continues to do so at this moment and beyond.

Madiba had the generosity of heart and gave me his head to stand on so that I could see farthest in the statistical world - the world of evidence for evidence-based decision making.

Madiba believed in planning: In a letter he wrote to Adelaide Tambo from prison, he said: “Significant progress is always possible if we ourselves plan every detail and allow intervention of fate only on our own terms. Preparing a master plan and applying it are two different things.” No doubt, for Madiba and his fellow Rivonia trialists were determined and knew that freedom would be possible in their lifetime. They probably etched their faith in the art of detailed planning and steeled their nerves in bravery.

On corruption, Madiba had this to say: “Naturally, we have made many mistakes, some of them fundamental. Then, we have shown weaknesses, because we came to government, determined to clean it of corruption, and yet we found that our own members, some of them who held leading positions in the liberation movement themselves, became corrupt and in some cases, even more corrupt than the civil service of the apartheid regime! That was a great disappointment and still is to us, because we believe in a clean government.”

The life of this person of significance in the history of humankind begs the question then of how we South Africans, fortunate and chosen, should conduct our affairs.

With Madiba we are a city on the hill, one that shines and cannot hide, yet Madiba conceded that he is no saint - only a sinner trying hard and open to master the frailties of life. He is one who insisted that his legacy should not be protected, but be appropriated in whichever way those wishing to be impacted by it should.

Surely, as South Africans we are licking our wounds, wondering how we got to where we are today. Our Madiba centenary celebrations are sitting side-by-side with an embarrassing situation to which we descended ourselves. Certainly against everything he ever stood for, his lived life and utterances were coherent and consistent. We have gone against his teachings.

Thus today we have to juxtapose Madiba’s legacy against the Commission of State Capture. As we sit at 100 with Madiba and sit at 100 with Albertina Sisulu, the image they see is not of glory.

They see demons. State capture has shown us the dark side we have chosen en route to crass materialism over empathy, despair over inspiration, evil over good, matter over mind, cursing darkness instead of shining light, glutton over vision, arrogance over humility, subterfuge over transparency.

All these qualities prevalent in society 24 years into democracy are not of a sinner who is always trying not to sin - they are sins of a sinner determined against all odds to sin.

South Africa today is that sinner engulfed in frailties of human kind. The world is engulfed today in those frailties of human kind. The question is: are we the sinners who try hard, or are we ones who are determined to sin even more?

The commission, led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, makes us come to terms with ourselves. The disinfectant of this space has to be filled with the wisdom of Madiba to rid ourselves of these demons. With Madiba’s wisdom of Africa Mayibuye we should and we shall overcome. We are all sent to overcome.

Everyone of us has a Madiba in him or her. It is our choice to decide what we do with him and his legacy.

Each of us has a journey of 100 years with Madiba, one of and to eternity. Mine in specific time lines started with the first post-apartheid census of South Africa in 1996 and ended with the third post-apartheid census of 2011. Since then it has taken on a new meaning. This opportunity for a lecture marks the nature of the changing relationship with Madiba and his legacy.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Follow Business Report on Instagram here