I, along with millions of other people, learnt last night of the death of Nelson Rolihlala Mandela. And yes, he was 95 years old and he was very ill so it was not unexpected. But that doesn’t matter. He may have been 95 years old, he may have been very ill but he was still himself. And mightily beloved. It is the thing about death, the bald, awful knowledge that that person no longer lives; that we can no longer talk to them, that we cannot hear them. In the case of Madiba there is his family who now know this – a huge extended family, many of whom shared his home. There is his wife, Graca Machel, who has herself lived through such tragedy but also lived a life full and strong. Their loss is inconceivable. For many others not just in South Africa but all over the world, his loss is felt deeply.
Speaking for myself I do not mourn him for his role in the process of reconciliation in South Africa, I do not mourn him for his lack of bitterness, I do not mourn him for his statesmanship. I mourn him for who he was. And I know it is hard to separate the man from the politician, the man from the revolutionary and I am not trying to do that. But it was in his inner life that he was so special. He was a person who loved life. He was a good man. A clever man. A thoughtful man and a kind man. No one was beneath him, and I cannot think of any political leader who matches him in this. And this was not humility, it was a genuine interest in other human beings. He was curious and caring. And funny, really funny. He was not, however, as Saki Macozoma so aptly said tonight, a teddy bear. Madiba had a core of steel and an authority about him that would be remembered by those who crossed him and those who were lead by him. He knew his own mind. With his death we have lost that. Over the past years we have also lost many of the generation who grew up with him: Oliver Tambo, a gentle soul and a fierce revolutionary, Walter Sisulu, softly spoken, highly principled and Govan Mbeki. People like Phyllis Naidoo, people for whom the struggle for justice and for an end to Apartheid was their life. That generation moved to a different tempo and their beliefs shaped the way they lived and shaped the way that South Africa was born. I feel lucky to have been a part of that.
In President Zuma’s announcement of Mandela’s death he said ‘ we saw in him what we seek in ourselves.’ and that is so true. I am so sad he is no longer with us, I wish he could have had many more years in freedom. I wish I could turn the clocks back. But we can’t – and so I am glad he is at least now free from pain and sadness. And I hope that in some way his death leads to a renewal of vows amongst South Africans – a renewal of the things we do look for in ourselves: kindness, fairness, hope, generosity, honesty and integrity.
Below is a recording of Another Country, a Mango Groove song written at a time when South Africa was on the verge of becoming a democracy. A dark time when many lost their lives.