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Reflections on the life and times of former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

The story of South Africa is a story woven from the fabric of contradictions, struggle and survival into a garment of celebration, exuberance and endurance - based on the life story of one man.
No one else bears the scars of this struggle and the crowns of its victory more so than Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. His epic courage is best summed up in the court statement he made to the Pretoria Supreme Court on 20 April 1964: "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

The birth of our democracy was cradled in the womb of his caring frame for decades. Though he, himself a victim of the very laws he fought against, he compassionately and resolutely nursed the hopes and aspirations of a wounded and bleeding nation, until that nation cast its first ballot as a bright, young new democracy.

The lessons drawn from his life and leadership will continue to be the motivating force and principal guiding light for all humanity for decades to come. As a nation, we have been very privileged to bask in the sunlight of his gracious leadership, his generous spirit and his all-embracing warmth and wisdom. When he wrote in his book "Long Walk to Freedom" that "The greatest glory in living, lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall", little did we understand the depth of those words as we do today. Even today, as Tata has fallen to the tides of time as all flesh will do, he rises in each of us who embrace the Mandela in us, and who seek to connect to the power of "the idea whose time has come". Every South African, in honour of our greatest citizen, must seek to live out the "ideas, like freedom whose time has come". We owe it to him and our children to always make this country a festival of ideas, a place of innovation and the home of all who love freedom.

As the Community Chest, we have the privilege of having received a letter from Tata in February 1996 which has pride of place in our board room in which he encourages our endeavours of Community Upliftment with the words: "I believe that you have set an example for all SA - one of caring and community spirit which transcends cultural barriers and allows us to look ahead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all our citizens."

For us, who bid Tata farewell, and cling to his extra-ordinary spirit, exemplary conduct, his profound words and fond memories, it is with an intense sense of responsibility that we, as the Community Chest of South Africa, honour his legacy and record our sincere gratitude to the man, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela for giving us, our children and the generations to come a future and a hope we can believe in. And Tata, we have no greater joy than to tell the world, and to the many that will come after us, that we saw you, touched your strong hand, saw your welcoming face, listened to your assuring voice and found hope for our nation in your words and leadership. We will miss you Tata, this nation will miss you. Prison hid your presence from us for so long, but prison could not stop your influence over our ideas and aspirations to live in a free and prosperous nation. Thank you for giving your life up for us, for sacrificing your freedom and your own family for the family we call South Africa.

The words which best describes this moment for us in Community Chest is recorded in "Long Walk to Freedom": "I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."

Today we mourn, we weep and we are shattered, but tomorrow we will rise, we will be inspired and we will succeed. A nation greets you, Tata, and a people rise, invigorated and inspired by both The Prisoner and Our President, to thank you.

Hamba Kahle Tata Mandela Hamba Kahle.


About the author

Lorenzo Davids is the CEO of Community Chest of South Africa and its member organisations in Johannesburg, Sasolburg, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Buffalo City, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

The Community Chest of The Western Cape's press office

The Community Chest of The Western Cape
The Community Chest's vision of a country where all individuals and families reach their human potential is based on the fundamentality of access to Health, Education and Income-Generation.
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