Eulogy to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
by: Ambassador Mohau Pheko
Here – in this final hour, in this quiet place – in the season of festivity a great Son of South Africa, the African Soil, Son of the Universe, father and friend is gone. In the words of a great poem. „ In our sleep pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.‟
Friends, Sons and daughters of Africa, today we come to remember, to allow our deepest emotions about this great icon to embrace and inspire us to be better human being. We bid farewell to one of our brightest hopes -extinguished now, and gone from us forever. Through the efforts of the anti-apartheid movement here, Japan is where he made his first ever-diplomatic trip abroad after his release from 27 years of imprisonment in 1990. It is most fitting that we meet once again – in Tokyo – to share these last moments with him. About Japan he said it was a country „that embraced peace with a passion; a country that has graciously acknowledged wrongs of the past…central in building a new and better world.‟
The words “Nelson Mandela is dead” feel awkward, a bitter yet sweet taste in the mouth today. It‟s almost impossible to say, given the exceptional way he was both martyred and canonized during his lifetime.
The world paused on Thursday night at the death of Nelson Mandela, Africa‟s greatest leader and a man whose convictions and warmth of spirit touched strangers and friends far beyond the continent. In Tokyo, Nairobi, London, Istanbul, Harare, Havana, Oslo, Kingston, Suva, Moscow, Ottawa and Mumbai, all over the world people who conceivably have never set foot in Africa will have absorbed the news, or told a friend or thought the words, privately, “Nelson Mandela is dead” and have felt some distinct sense of loss.
Nelson Mandela was more than a role model to millions, or the embodiment of majesty and grace which comes along so rarely to transfix. Many of us feel as though we have lost something indefinable, something spiritual – a part of us almost.
Here was a man who struggled, and then towered past the sweeping choking rage of his time, the insurmountable despair of an unspeakable colonial, racist deplorable apartheid past, and the suffocation of black people and a crippling present. Somehow he transcended it all. How we don‟t know. It was ‒ is ‒ humanly impossible.
He embodied a paradox: on the one hand we loved him for his humanity; on the other, he already passed long ago from the world of the flesh. He was our moral authority, rising above the soulless wilderness of the 20th century; he was a universal symbol for goodness and wisdom, pushing our boundaries imploring us to change, serving as a powerful missionary of reconciliation.
He used this to formidable effect, and while he may indeed have lived the racial reconciliation he preached it. This is critical to any understanding of the man and his
political gifts: he deployed empathy as a strategy to get what he wanted – for himself while in prison, for our people, and for our country. He learned Afrikaans in prison not because it was a beautiful language or even because he wished to use the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house, but so that he could sweet-talk his warders into granting him and his fellow-prisoners long pants instead of shorts and other concessions that would make their lives more bearable.
Speaking of the universal experience of suffering and hatred as an “apartheid of the heart”, Clinton said that the world adulated Mandela because it sought “wisdom from the power of his example to do whatever we can, however we can, wherever we can, to take the apartheid out of our own and others’ hearts”.
He came upon his almost inhuman lack of bitterness and desire for reconciliation in the prison laboratory because he recognized early that an amiable approach lifted the horror of prejudice and apartheid of the heart from his savage captors’ eyes and transformed them into human beings. Once they were human, they could reason, and once they could reason, they would – as he had – understand that South Africans’ futures were interlocked, and that they were dependent on each other.
Without doubt, Nelson Mandela′s willingness to walk the road of sacrifice distinguishes him as one of the greatest symbols of resilience, tolerance, non–violence and moral integrity of our age. , perhaps of all ages. Mandela was an unapologetic father figure a delightfully self-deprecating patriarch. Some leader’s claim that their subjects are their children. This can be the very definition of tyranny, but what made Mandela so singular a leader of modern times is the way he re-appropriated such clichés. He inhabited his paternity in such a way that it seemed fresh and emancipatory even as it comforted in the way it recalled more traditional understandings of what a leader should be. He redefined the concept of leadership.
I had the profound privilege of meeting him several times. In person, he was not notably affectionate, but he had an uncanny way of creating intimacy, making you feel you were the most important person. At times when he seemed distant and inattentive on policy engagement, he always managed to amaze as he summarized the discussions with precision incorporating everyone‟s input.
In his own life, he was a failure as a father – in part, but not entirely, because of his three decades of incarceration. His daughter Makaziwe once said to him, describing a rebuffed hug: “You are a father to all our people, but you have never been a father to me.” Like so many great leaders, he found refuge from the difficulties of familial intimacy in politics and struggle – in the family of humanity. This led to a personality that combined “extreme heartiness with impenetrable reserve.
For most of humanity, only the heartiness was visible. “Ah, Elizabeth!” he once greeted the British queen with a rural bellow as she approached him at Buckingham Palace, folding her in embrace. “You are as beautiful as ever! How do you manage to keep so young?” While courtiers and diplomats expired with embarrassment at his multiple faux pas, the queen simply blushed – and giggled: “Nelson!”
When the world pontificates about consensus building, he had the vast imagination, the raw courage, and the unfettered will to live it. Yes, another lesson for us, as we grope and grapple for this elusive dream of consensus, while surrounded by our own bitter
history, self-inflicted weaknesses, and cultivated failures.
Oh, the writing and the talking will be endless about Nelson Mandela. The writing and talking of his sublime greatness, and his assured place in that distant galaxy inhabited by those peerless men and women elevated to the level of gods. But the greatest tribute that can be paid to this son of the universe would be to follow him; to walk in his shoes; to feel first the pain; and last to live the difference. It took him to the mountaintop, didn‟t it? It is one more lesson for those willing to travel the hardest of hard roads.
The prophet‟s lips are now sealed. The question is who speaks for him now that he is not there. Will you stand up and speak for his values when they are downgraded in any part of the world? The values of democracy, social justice, freedom of speech, freedom of the media and Human & women‟s rights?
Wherever any of these things are subjected to attack, will you stand up and speak like Mandela? Tears will dry, emotions well up, but that will pass. At that time, therefore, the values, ethics and principles of Nelson Mandela need to be defended and fought for with the kind of courage that he had.
In closing, allow me to share a poem appropriated by Nelson Mandela:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”