Condolences: To uTata Mandela’s beloved wife, Graca Machel, his former wife, Winnie Madikizela, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and to all the Madibas – we express our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your paterfamilias, your patriarch. Although we collectively claim him as the father of our nation, and the pain we feel is similar to that of losing a close relative, he was your husband, your father and your grandfather. We pray that God will dry your tears and renew your strength. We thank you for sharing uTata with us. And we thank God for him. We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.
People cared about Nelson Mandela, loved him, because of his courage, convictions and care of others’. He set aside the bitterness of enduring 27 years in apartheid prisons – and the weight of centuries of colonial division, subjugation and repression – to personify the spirit and practice of Ubuntu. He perfectly understood that people are dependent on other people in order for individuals and society to prosper.
He transcended race and class in his personal actions, through his warmth and through his willingness to listen and to emphasise with others. And he restored others’ faith in Africa and Africans.
Was Nelson Mandela an anomaly, an exception that proves the rule?
I would say, no. Certainly, he was exceptional. But the spirit of greatness that he personified resides in all of us. Human beings are made for greatness. Nelson Mandela embodied and reflected our collective greatness. He embodied our hopes and our dreams. He symbolised our enormous potential, potential that has not always been fulfilled.
Nelson Mandela was not a lone wolf, and he did not fall from the sky. He learned about leadership and culture growing up in the care of AbaThembu Regent Jongintaba after the death of his father. He learned from the experience of developing a voice for young people in anti-apartheid politics, and from physically prosecuting the struggle. He learned from the comrades who surrounded him, an extraordinary generation of leaders. To all of this, the crucible of prison seemed to add a deep understanding of the human condition and a profound ability to empathise with others.
Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.
Did he have weaknesses?
Of course he did, among them his steadfast loyalty to his organisation and to some of his colleagues who ultimately let him down. He retained in his cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers. This tolerance of mediocrity arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility that were to come.
Was he a saint?
Not if a saint is entirely flawless. I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully and revealed in his character, transparently, many of God’s attributes of goodness: compassion, concern for others, and a desire for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.
What will happen now that our father has died? Does it spell doomsday and disaster for South Africa?
To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames – as some have predicted – is to discredit South Africans and Madiba’s legacy. The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next… It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on. As we enter the mourning period, as a nation, we do so with the greatest dignity and respect because that is what we owe Madiba and ourselves.
Over the past 24 years Madiba taught us how to come together and to believe in ourselves and each other. He was a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison.
He taught us extraordinarily practical lessons about forgiveness and compassion and reconciliation. The Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park comes to mind, and his visit to Mrs Betsy Verwoerd, the widow of the architect of apartheid, for tea and koeksusters.
He taught us that to respect those with whom we are politically or socially or culturally at odds is not a sign of weakness, but a mark of self-respect.
As a mark of our respect for him, let us use this moment in our history to reach out to one another again, to prove to ourselves and the world that our greatness was not illusory – that it exists.
Let us love one another as we loved him. Let us celebrate Madiba, together, and not let him down.