By Matt Morrison
Eleven years into democracy South Africa is regarded as a phenomenon for three reasons: its transition to freedom, its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Nelson Mandela.
These were the words of Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu when he opened the photographic exhibition of Peter Magubane's work on Mandela at the South African National Gallery on Wednesday.
After taking a tour of the gallery, Tutu, Nobel Laureate and guest of honour, spoke to a crowd of 200 about the significance of Freedom Day.
"Isn't it a wonder that we are opening this exhibition today? It's been 11 years since the day that anything could have happened.
"Do you remember how we were the world's favourite pariah? We were a repulsive caterpillar... but isn't it extraordinary how we saw that caterpillar transformed into the most gorgeous butterfly?"
Entitled Madiba: Man Of Destiny, the exhibition covers the life of Mandela from the late 1950s. It runs at the National Gallery until July 17.
The photographs make up a narrative that documents Mandela's past in political rallies, meetings with world leaders, and private moments with family and friends.
Magubane, whom Tutu referred to as "an artist par excellence", is an internationally acclaimed photojournalist who, like Mandela also suffered at the hands of apartheid, having been detained in 1969.
He could not attend the opening due to engagements abroad.
Among his many accolades, Magubane has received Lifetime Achievement Awards from both Leica and the Mother Jones Foundation as well as the South African Order of Meritorious Service.
Mandela wrote of Magubane: "For his bravery and courage during the dark years of apartheid, Peter became a beacon of hope not only to thousands of other journalists all over the world, but also to millions of people across the country.
"His commitment to photojournalism helped pave the way to transformation in South Africa."
Tutu went on to note Mandela's contribution to South Africa's great democracy.
"Mandela got people to accept that there were different ways of resolving problems in this country, through reconciliation rather than retribution and revenge," Tutu said.
"Some people think he is a living saint. I don't know. I just know we're damned lucky to have had him."
Tutu recalled fond memories of Mandela.
"I used to think Madiba was a close friend of mine until I told him he had abominable sartorial taste - those awful shirts of his! And he responded, 'who do you imagine telling me about my shirts but a man who wears skirts!'"
He concluded his speech by saying South Africa is an example to the world community.
"We can say to all the world's areas of conflict that we have been through a nightmare called apartheid, and there is a way out... Today, we are an extraordinary beacon of hope."