Banda: Mandela shaped my life

By Time of article published Dec 15, 2013

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Qunu - Malawian President Joyce Banda received a standing ovation when she spoke about her position as a woman president at former president Nelson Mandela's state funeral in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, on Sunday.

Many women in the audience shouted "Yes, yes" when Banda spoke about her presidency.

They waved their hands in the air when she spoke about learning from Mandela's example.

The audience cheered when Banda paid tribute to Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and his widow Graca Machel.

The two grieving women showed little reaction to the address. Madikizela-Mandela looked down and Machel stared ahead.

Banda recounted the times she met Mandela.

"The first time I was privileged to meet president Mandela was his visit to Malawi, upon his release from prison," she told mourners.

In 1996, she visited Robben Island and was inspired by Mandela's story. She later met him at a conference in Botswana in 1997.

"I was inspired by the great leader who was focused, calm and collected."

She later met Mandela and his wife Graca Machel at their home.

She said she walked into the home and did not expect to see Mandela waiting for her.
"My first reaction was to run out," she said.

Banda said there was a famous picture of Mandela's widow Graca Machel pulling her back towards Mandela.

"At that moment I did not know I was going to become president of Malawi a few months down the line."

She acknowledged Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for standing by him and Machel.

"Women across South Africa have told me these past 10 days that they are very proud of you and what you have taught us as African women."

Banda said she was amazed by Nelson Mandela's humility and leadership.

"I was amazed by his humility and his great sense of leadership... Mandela's character has shaped my life."

Banda said that after visiting Robben Island in 1996, she had tried to find every book she could about Mandela.

"I was further touched by his life and the story of Tata Mandela. I read and read everything."

Banda, who is also Southern African Development Community chairwoman, said she was honoured to be able to pay tribute to Mandela.

She told mourners that the moment she became president of Malawi she found herself having to work with people who had opposed her in the past.

It was Mandela who showed her how to become and act like a president, and forgive those who had transgressed.

"That courage and determination... and passion for his people inspired me on the journey to become the first woman president of this region," Banda said.

"Leadership is about falling in love with the people you serve and about the people falling in love with you. It is about serving the people selflessly, [with] sacrifice and with a need to put common good ahead of personal interest."

Southern Africa extended a hand of comfort to Mandela's family, the government of South Africa and all its people in honouring one of its true and irreplaceable sons, she said.

"He is not only a loss to the Republic of South Africa but also to the Southern African Development Community region and the world," she said.

"And as we celebrate the life of this icon, it is time to take stock of the things that Tata Madiba taught us during his time."

Mandela believed all people were created equal for good and the way he conducted himself brought the region closer together.

"He championed the freedom of not only South Africans, and all of us Africans. Tata Madiba taught us that even when the challenges... seem insurmountable, with courage and determination you can overcome the evils of our society," Banda said.

"I join you, people of this rainbow nation, to celebrate a life of one of Africa's greatest leaders.

"I stand before you to join you, the people of South Africa and the world to mourn the loss a great leader," she said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister and African Union chairman Hailemariam Desalegn said on Sunday that Africa is indebted to Mandela for the sacrifices he made to the continent,

"It is altogether fitting that the entire world pays tribute and bids farewell to this iconic leader and champion of the ideals of justice and liberty," he told mourners at Mandela's state funeral.

He said Mandela held a special place in Ethiopian and African hearts, as he represented the oppression and injustice the continent had to endure from colonisers and their like.

"This moment is even more poignant for Africa... Mandela's life had been [full of the] trials and tribulations [facing the] entire continent. His life was a struggle against unparalleled odds... a life of perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges...

"As a true leader of authentic personification of the ANC, Mandela's life represented what was promising about the continent's future, if we fight injustice... ," Desalegn said.

"If we remain committed to the ideals of justice, liberation and above all the sanctity of human dignity, we can ultimately prevail over evil, no matter how stacked the odds are against us."

Humanity was better off because it had the good fortune of having had Mandela as a source of wisdom and as its torch bearer in times of utter darkness.

"What we are doing today is not so much mourning the passing of an icon...[but] as a celebration of humanity at its finest," he said.

"We should all count ourselves lucky to draw a lesson or two from the life of this towering figure."

South Africans were not alone in their mourning of Nelson Mandela, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete said on Sunday.

"The people of Tanzania would like you to know you are not alone," Kikwete said at Mandela's state funeral.

"They will be with you during this period of mourning and thereafter. Your loss is our loss. He was our leader, our hero, our icon, our father, as much as he was yours.

"The people of Tanzania have lost a great friend... a great comrade in arms."

Mandela died at his Houghton home, in Johannesburg, last Thursday. He was 95. A memorial service was held at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday. His body lay in state at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, between Wednesday and Friday, when about 100,000 people paid homage to him.

His body was taken to the Eastern Cape on Saturday. - Sapa

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