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Tribute to the late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela by Minister of Arts and Culture and Chairperson of the ANC in Gauteng, Paul Mashatile

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11 Dec 2013

Comrades and friends, we are here today not to mourn but to celebrate a life of a political giant, a warrior, a revolutionary and a true son of the soil.

Comrade Madiba was one of a kind. Whilst humble, compassionate and even understanding, if needs be, he would become resolute or at times obstinate in defence of a principle. Born into the Tembu Royal family, Madiba was destined to become a traditional leader but his political conscience that was shaped by the circumstances that he grew within made him to break from the trappings of the priviledges of traditional leadership and join the masses of our people in the fight against colonialism, racial oppression and class domination.

What an amazing journey! From the humble beginning of being a shepherd boy in Mvezo (Transkei) to an extraordinary leader of modern times, Madiba’s was indeed a long walk to freedom. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela touched the lives of everyone he interacted with in the most profound way. My own life was touched by him and his political views influenced mine in a way indescribable. Growing in the dusty streets of Alexandra, my interest to politics was triggered by what Madiba stood for. He stood for justice. He stood for equality. He stood for democracy. He stood for freedom. These are the ideals that found resonance with me as a young man growing within the sea of poverty, squalor, disease and oppression.

Hearing stories about Madiba and other leaders who led the Alexandra Bus boycott, resistance against the repugnant pass laws, the potato boycott and the Defiance Campaign, I wouldn’t but want to be part of the movement that would fight against the injustices that were meted out to our people by an oppressive and cruel apartheid regime. Hence, I pay tribute today to Madiba and the ideals he and the African National Congress stood and continue to stand for. The ideals of selflessness, respect for others, love, unity, non-racialism, democracy, freedom, peace and equality. To borrow from Madiba himself, “these are the ideals I was prepared to die for as a young man and even today”. Hence, the decision to join the struggle at a tender age!

I am humbled by the opportunity to pay tribute to the legendary Tata Madiba and I believe this feeling is shared by many of us gathered here today to honour this great leader of our time. What an experience when I first met Madiba. I was part of the UDF delegation that visited him whilst he was still incarcerated at Victor Vester Prison.

Talking about him and hearing stories about him never prepared me for an amazing experience when I first met him personally. Very imposing with his presence but as humble as you cannot imagine, Madiba would insist on greeting everyone by hand, asking his name and cracking a joke as his humorous side will always come forth. When you introduced yourself, he will never forget your name as he had a photographic mind and this made people relaxed and free around him.

Tata will also never impose his views on anyone. He viewed himself as part of the collective and that all views needed to be expressed and respected. He would engage in a decent and civil conversation about a matter. Whilst robust when required, he will utilise his persuasive prowess to make one see things differently. But Madiba would also concede if persuaded otherwise or having made a wrong call – a sign of a great leader. I am priviledged to have interacted with him on a number of occasions and having learnt from his wisdom and counsel.

Fellow comrades, we are acknowledging the efforts of a tireless fighter for freedom and democracy today and it is my hope that the mourning of Madiba’s departure and celebrations of his life will inspire us to endure our long walk to consolidate our nation building, reconciliation and social cohesion project. As we honour Tata, it is befitting that we are doing this understanding that he was reconciliatory personified. This is a rich heritage from our struggle stalwart that we should celebrate, promote and preserve. This should also act as an impetus to efforts to transform the heritage sector and facilitate social cohesion and nation building.

Madiba’s is a great story to tell and indeed we should tell it to South Africans and the world for generations to come and as we prepare to celebrate 20 years of freedom and democracy in our country, let the telling of Madiba’s story inspire ordinary South Africans to unearth the untold stories so as they are also vigorously and efforts are made to recognise the unsung heroes and heroines who participated in the liberation struggle of South Africa as these will remind us that the South African struggle for liberation was fought by people from diverse backgrounds and that this diversity was a source of strength rather than a source of weakness.

The passing of Tata Madiba whilst sad will also give impetus to strengthen non-racialism in our country, to build an inclusive South African society that belongs to all who live; black and white united in our diversity and consolidate reconciliation particularly given that we will be commemorating National reconciliation Day in a few days’ time.

Madiba was a special one. He was a special breed. He was cut from an exclusive cloth that stood out from the crowd. An ordinary man who achieved extraordinary things due to his conviction and commitment to the cause of the oppressed and downtrodden to liberate themselves! How appropriate that today we are paying tribute to this political giant and world icon in glowing terms. Madiba was a reconciliatory extraordinaire. On a few occasions when our country was at the brink of catastrophe, he would risk even his life to insist that we should creatively find ways out of that tricky situation through negotiations and we should even embrace those who committed horrendous crimes against our people against the wishes of some of us who felt that we should teach the enemy a lesson it would not forget.

Who can forget his statesmanship subsequent to Comrade Chris Hani being assassinated by enemy forces? The country was burning and people were baying for blood. How blessed were we that we had Madiba who would call for and insist on calm. The apartheid masters had run out of ideas and the country was indeed ungovernable and the apartheid system unworkable. But true to form, our beloved Madiba stepped in and our country was saved from bloodshed and internecine violence.

We are grateful to him and the ANC’s leadership for their resoluteness and foresight. We will forever be indebted to Madida for his principled stance and love for his people and country.

What of the springbok emblem that the majority of people felt it represented our cruel past of exclusion and white priviledge. The rugby national teams can still wear the springbok on their jerseys thanks to Madiba who nudged South Africans generally and the African majority in particular, to embrace the springbok as part of our rich heritage. Thank you Tata for your wisdom and courage today we understand reconciliation due to your efforts.

Fellow South Africans, as we celebrate the twenty years of our freedom and democracy next year, let us spare a thought to those who are still suffering under the burden of poverty, joblessness and inequality.
What a tribute it will be for Madima, Oom Bey (another reconciliatory extraordinaire) and other fallen stalwarts if we were to redouble our efforts to build a truly non-racial, democratic and non-sexist nation. We defeated apartheid against all odds. Hence I am confident that together we will defeat the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and joblessness.

Madiba fought against all forms of oppression, be it racial, class or gender. He was steadfast in his resolve to usher in a dispensation that would allow for people to be treated equally and they are views respected, irrespective of race, colour, gender or creed. He occupied forward struggle trenches with great stalwarts like Dr Segomotsi Ruth Mompati, Helen Joseph, Getrude Shope, Ruth First, to mention but a few. He spoke out against the pass laws and supported the struggle of women to break from the shackles of triple oppression – being black, being workers and being women.

He never flinched when confronting issues of gender equality. His efforts ensured that the ANC embraced progressive policies that enhanced the status of women and the progress that has been made in women empowerment is in no measure thanks to Madiba. As the founding president of the democratic South Africa, Tata Madiba consciously appointed his women compatriots are appointed to positions of responsibility in the senior echelons of our government. His concerted efforts have led to not only the ANC but also government and the rest of society to adopt and implement policies that promoted gender equality and initiatives are taken to ensure that our womenfolk contribute to building a great nation we are becoming.

We salute Madiba for his unshakable commitment and conviction to equality generally and gender equality in particularly. Today, our country is a shining light to the world including the so-called mautre democracy in terms of women empowerment and gender equality. This majestic legacy should be preserved and it should continue to inspire us to make our country a better place for us all. Indeed, through Madiba’s efforts, our country is better than it was in 1994.

Enkosi, Dalibunga! Siyabulela, Madiba! Siyabonga! Re a leboga! Dankie! Thank you!

We will solely miss you but the wonderful memories you left will make us endure the long walk to a better life for all. Madiba is no more! Long live the spirit of Madiba!