JOHANNESBURG’S Executive Mayor Mpho Parks Tau pays tribute to the life of former President Nelson Mandela at a special session in the Johannesburg Council Chambers, 9 December 2013. Madiba passed away after a long illness on 5 December.
JOHANNESBURG COUNCIL CHAMBERS
9 December 2013
In 1941 a 23 year old young man from a rural village in the Transkei arrived in the City of Johannesburg having been expelled from the Fort Hare University for leading a student protest against management practices at the institution.
He was offered a job as a night watchman at Crown Mines with the intention to continue his studies at the University of Witwatersrand. Writing in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela later recalled his first encounter with the apartheid police force at the time who arrested him on some minor offence.
“I explained that I am student from Fort Hare and that I was only in Johannesburg temporarily” he recounted the incident.
The temporary stay became permanent and over the next seven decades this humble man from a humble village was a dominant force in a movement that transformed our country and astounded the world.
His words, his actions, his convictions and his sacrifices inspired a nation and excited our youth. One of these was a young 20-year old student called John Matshikiza who later became one of Johannesburg’s most celebrated poets and writers. In 1974 he was inspired to reflect on the life and achievements of a man who, at that time, was serving a life sentence on a barren island, condemned for his audacity to believe in universal freedom, human rights and the liberation of his people from the yoke of oppression.
I want to quote Matshikiza:
“It is not for the safety of silence;
That this man has opened his arms to lead;
The strength of his words hangs in the air
As the strength of his eyes remains in the sky;
And the years of impatient waiting draw on
While this man burns to clear the smoke in the air;
There is fire here
Which no prison
Can kill in this man;
And I watch it in Mandela.”
Madam Speaker, Members of the Mayoral Committee, Chief Whip of Council, Fellow councillors, Uncle Ahmed Kathrada,our own Freeman of the City, Nadime Gordimer Sisulu’s family: Beryl Sisulu; Moyikwa Sisulu; Zondwa Sisulu
Lilian Ngoyi’s daughters: Ms Memory Mphahlele and Maleshoane Mphahlele , Helen Joseph’s Friend Mrs Jansie Marcott Mama Rita Ndzanga, distinguished guests and the people of Johannesburg.
We are gathered at a time of mourning and celebrating over the passing of South Africa’s greatest son, the father of our nation, a celebrated world icon and the inspiration of our people over a lifetime of commitment to justice, progress and reconciliation.
I want to use this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathy and condolences especially to Gracia and Winnie, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and loved ones of our departed Madiba. The family have strong ties with our city and have played enormous roles in supporting him through the years when he was incarcerated and in his time as a public leader and global figure. Our thoughts are with the family in these days and we thank you for sharing him with billions of people across the world.
Madiba was an amateur boxer, a giant renowned all over the world. The same week Madiba’s passing on was accompanied by the news of the passing on of the little giant triple world title holder, Jacob Matlala. We also want to send condolences to his family and also celebrate his amazing feat in the boxing ring.
It is unparallel in history that the entire global community be so united in grief and celebration about the passing of a leader of this stature. From Bangkok to Buenos Aires, from Los Angeles to Lagos, from Paris to Perth flags were flown at half-mast and people gathered spontaneously in public places to celebrate his life, lay down flowers or sign books of condolences.
South African embassies and offices, including us here in Johannesburg were inundated with messages of support, praise and appreciation for a life well lived.
Shortly after the announcement of the passing of Madiba, US President Barack Obama who said: “He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages”. He also said his decision to enter public life while a young student at Harvard, was inspired by the example of Nelson Mandela.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban-Ki Moon described him as a man of quiet dignity and towering achievement, a giant for justice and a down to earth inspiration.
The former President of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda said: “Today we are all free to create a better Africa on our terms because of his sacrifice”
Indian President, Pranab Mukerhjee said his life was a saga of human strength and courage. In the steady flame of his life, lies hope for the redemption of all of us.”
And Chinese President Xi Jinping said Nelson Mandela was not only a hero in the hearts of all South Africans but also a symbol of reconciliation to the world.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was more than a political leader or the President of our country for an all too brief five year period. He nurtured the struggle for our freedom; inspired a continent; served as the conscience of the globe and, eventually, through his words and his actions transformed a generation.
27 years as a prisoner of conscience did not dim the light of hope that he ignited in the hearts of freedom-loving South Africans. Nor did it extinguish the burning passion in his own spirit to continue fighting for a just, equitable and democratic country and society.
Many of us who grew up with stories and recounts of Tata Mandela and the liberation movement he led thought that he would live forever. Those among us who came to political consciousness inspired by his far-sightedness and then devoted ourselves to public service to help give meaning to his words and vision thought that we will always be able to draw on his words of encouragement and his personal wisdom.
It is instructive to note that Nelson Mandela never ascribed these same notions of immortality to himself. As a realist, as a visionary and as someone who literally stared death in the face when he appeared in the dock during the 1963 Rivonia Trial he was all too aware of the brevity of time allocated to leaders and revolutionaries.
Shortly after his retirement as President of the Republic, in 2000 he conducted a media interview with the American talk show host Oprah Winfrey. His words ring remarkably true at this time when we honour his memory and reflect on his contribution.
“You have a limited time to stay on earth,” he said in the interview. “You must use this time given to you for the purpose of transforming your country into what you desire it to be – a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist country.”
I believe these words are very apt for us in Johannesburg as we stand at our own critical juncture in transforming the City of Nelson Mandela, of Walter Sisulu, of Beyers Naude and of Lilian Ngoyi into a City after our hearts’ desire.
At the core of what we are doing through the Corridors of Freedom – our transit-oriented urban development programme — is to create an environment within which all the people of Johannesburg can feel that they belong to this great city; that they are no longer deprived of opportunities because of inequities created by legislation, town planning and lack of access to transport; that they are no longer treated as marginalised people, shunted to the outskirts, condemned to be exiles in their own city.
I, therefore, firmly believe that the most profound way in which the City of Johannesburg can honour the legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is to continue following his example and proceed with the fundamental transformation of our urban shape and landscape.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is not a time to claim ownership of a man who was, without a doubt the most formidable global icon of the 20th Century. Like no other leader before him Nelson Mandela transcended definitions of time, race, gender and political philosophy. He was as much at ease in the presence of kings and presidents as when he walked in the streets of Orange Farm or visited the poorest of the poor in the slums of Kolkata where Mother Teresa established her ministry.
However, let us remember — and let us proclaim with a profound sense of humility and appreciation — that it was in a small backroom in Alexandra where Nelson Mandela first stayed when he moved from the Eastern Cape to play a greater role on the national stage; It was at the University of the Witwatersrand, not far from here, where he received his law degree and went on to open a law office together with Oliver Tambo on the corner of Fox and Gerard Sekoto Streets in Ferreirasdorp.
It was in Vilakazi Street in Orlando West where he established his first home which he used as a meeting place for comrades of the African National Congress and the Youth League and from where he played such a vital role in the defining years of our liberation struggle. It is from here where he participated in the adoption of the Freedom Charter of 1955; developed the M-Plan which served as a blueprint for the growth of the ANC’s underground structures; faced charges of treason during the mass trials of the 1950s; and designed the formation of the People’s Army, Umkhonto weSizwe which he went on to lead as its first commander.
It was to this same modest home on the corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane streets that Nelson Mandela returned to after 27 years of incarceration – this time not only as the celebrated leader of his country and his people but also as the global symbol of freedom, liberty and reconciliation.
And, in the final years of his life, after more than half a century of struggle and devotion to public life, it was to the suburb of Houghton that Nelson Mandela retired to serve his remaining days as the Father of our Nation and an inspiration to the world.
Through the decades he has heard about, and later witnessed, the City grow from a mining town dominated by golden dumps and the head frames of shafts to the skyline of Africa’s most dynamic city, the hub of trade, commerce and banking on the continent and an environment that inspires poets, dancers, musicians and entrepreneurs.
During our visit to the family on 07 December 2013, mama Graca reminded us of what Madiba said in 1990 when former President F W de Klerk wanted to release him with fellow Rivonia Trialists.
In Nelson Mandela by Himself book, Manela says: “When I was released from prison, there was a little bit of irony in the sense that Mr (FW) de Klerk told me on 9 February that I would be released on Sunday. I said please give me two weeks so I can arrange with my people outside. I was afraid that the release would be chaotic.”
On his release, at the right time, he started a crusade of healing and reconciling the nation and the world. Madiba, the fighter, well-disciplined and organised leader, was again to surprise all and sundry when he was admitted in hospital early this year. Many people locally and worldwide thought he would not leave the hospital alive. His fighting spirit and the grace of the Lord came to the fore. As mama Graca said, Madiba, the Lord granted him more time to keep alive to allow us to be ready to unite in appreciate all the good things we value in life. As we all know today, the whole nation and the world is now united in celebrating his life. Madiba has indeed completed his mission in the world!
In pursuit of the spirit and example of Nelson Mandela, this is also a city which cares for its poor and vulnerable. It is a City which wants to expand opportunities and bring people who have been excluded in the past closer to economic and social activities. A Johannesburg at work to address the inequities of the past and to create an inclusive, just and equitable City which reflects the values and aspirations of the man whose memory will linger on for years and decades to come.
In this spirit, we are proud to claim Johannesburg to be the City of Mandela; the home of our nation’s most celebrated citizen.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Through the years Johannesburg has responded by conferring on him our highest honour, the title of Freeman of the City – an honour that he carried with the same grace and dignity as the Nobel Peace Prize, the Ikhamanga Award and the 260 other doctorates, grand orders and global prizes bestowed upon him during his lifetime.
I still remember with fondness his remarks when we conferred the Freedom of the City on Tata Mandela in July 2004. With that remarkable sense of humour and twinkle in his eye he recalled an historic practice which entitled recipients of such honours to drive their cattle through the main street of the City.
“Would it be rude for an old man from the Transkei to ask that this town to which he emigrated so many years ago restore at least that right or privilege to the award? We would love nothing more than to fetch our cattle from the place of our birth and drive them through the main street of this city that has in so many respects been the place of our political birth.” Madiba said.
The memory of Isithwalandwe Seaparankoe Nelson Mandela will not fade after we have laid him to rest this week. We will remember him every time we cross the Nelson Mandela Bridge; he will be embedded in our consciousness through video footages of his charismatic appearances at Johannesburg venues; his liberation speech after his release in 1990; handing over the Rugby World Cup to a winning Springbok Team at Ellis Park in 1995; drawing thousands to their feet in the stadium and at homes when he graced us with his presence at the 2010 World Cup.
As another of Johannesburg’s Nobel Prize winners, the revered writer, Nadime Gordimer, once observed: “He is at the epicentre of our time; ours in South Africa; and yours, wherever you are.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we proceed from here as people and representatives of this great City and as the heirs of the Mandela generation we have to ask ourselves the question: what can we contribute to make this a lasting legacy?
I am inspired by a statement once made by Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, who said:
“People often ask me what difference can one person make in the face of injustice, conflict, human rights violations, mass poverty and disease. I answer by citing the courage, tenacity, dignity and magnanimity of Nelson Mandela.”
As citizens we can follow the example of a man who transcended divisions, bridged differences and healed a nation that was scarred by a historical legacy of more than three centuries. He said himself: “True reconciliation does not consist of merely forgetting the past.” It also requires a commitment to a new and shared future.
As public representatives, irrespective of our political differences I think this is an opportunity to unite around shared values and a broad commitment about how we want the city to develop in the years to come.
Let us build a new legacy of growth, development and social inclusion. Let us build a City where we can explore the possibilities of our freedom. Where we can realise the dreams and aspirations of successive generations. And where we can truly build a city to our heart’s desire.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Each one us who has an experience where this world icon influences our lives in a personal way. Individually ours was struck by his humility, his wisdom and his concern for the issues affecting ordinary people. While ANC President and statesman, I was a member of the ANC Orlando West branch. Madiba also made time to engage with us on issues that affected ANC members at grass root level.
For me personally it will require a period of adjustment to know that I will no longer be able to draw from his knowledge and wisdom on a regular basis. We are however, going forward, strengthened by our experience and comforted by our memories.
As Joburgers we were privileged to provide a home for South Africa most illustrious son of our soil. His legacy will endure. His memory will never fade.
Let us be inspired by his own words and the way in which he once described Johannesburg:
“Long live this town of vibrancy and activity. We know that it will transcend our history of division. We know that it is becoming one of the leading spaces of national unity in our country. We know that it is the centre of prosperity in our country, providing the opportunity to create that better life for all our people.”
I thank you.