Opening of Nelson Mandela’s Bishop’s Court Museum – August 2008
Speaker: Lynne Brown
Officials of the Rhodes-Mandela Foundation,
Ladies and gentlemen,
WE’VE come together today, at this special ceremony, to pay homage to the most instantly recognizable name – and face – on our planet.
I know – and I accept with an exhilarating sense of pride – that Nelson Mandela has been hailed throughout the world as a source of inspiration, as a symbol of hope, as a moral beacon and as a wonderful example for all of us to follow.
I know that Burmese democrats view Madiba as a hero. I know that Australian Aborigines are inspired by him. I know that the Americans would love to claim him as their own. And I know that the Indians are suggesting that he be given a special name, along the lines of their iconic Mahatma – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Millions more, in every continent on Earth, look to him for guidance and inspiration.
And that is great.
But we need to be selfish too. Here, in the Western Cape today, we want to say – in our own special way: “Thank you, Tata for all that you’ve done for us – and for what you will always mean to us.”
And so this is what we will be doing when we start turning this property into a living museum in honour of Madiba,
Mr Mandela and the Western Cape have travelled a long journey together. It hasn’t always been comfortable – and, in fact, for far too long, it was spitefully unpleasant. I’m referring here to his time in jail.
Madiba himself has described former Robben Island prison, where he was incarcerated for almost three decades as “the harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system”.
Ladies and gentlemen, given where he was and what he went through, I have mixed feelings when I say this, but I’m going to say it anyway….
“I am immensely proud that for the 27 years that the National Party so cruelly took Madiba away from the vast majority of South Africans, tens of thousands of us who fought (both mentally and physically) against apartheid created a “mind’s-eye” image of him and treasured it. And as the fight for freedom escalated, we reminded ourselves constantly: “Mandela, you may be out of sight, but you will never be out of our minds.”
I’m proud to say that we never gave up the fight for our freedom – and his (because our struggle was fought on behalf of everyone who sought justice and dignity).
Madiba was our inspiration then – and he continues, in many ways, to be our inspiration today.
Twenty-five years ago, when various organizations formed the United Democratic Front to unite South African communities that had been rent by the apartheid policies of divide and rule, Madiba (even from his prison cell) was the catalyst that moved Crossroads activists to join hands with their Mitchells Plain compatriots … he was the inspiration that moved members of the Claremont community to march shoulder to shoulder with angry young men and women from Cravenby Estate … he was the man who motivated us to kick down the mental and physical barriers that had divided so many of us for more than 300 years.
Even from jail, Mandela helped to bring about the collapse of apartheid.
Since his release from prison – and few will forget that precious Sunday, on 11 February 1990 – just about anyone who has come within five metres of him has a story to tell about him.
Some, of course, have come closer than five metres….
Even the rich and the powerful have confessed to be in awe of him. Former US president, Bill Clinton, who has always had a way with words (among other things), put it like this in a lavish coffee table book (appropriately entitled “Mandela”): “Every time Nelson Mandela walks into a room, we all feel a little bigger, we all want to stand up, we all want to cheer, because we’d like to be him on our best day.”
Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan chose Madiba’s farewell speech at the United Nations General Assembly as his fondest memory of the former South African president….
“This is probably the last time I will have the honour to stand at this podium to address the General Assembly,” Madiba said at the beginning of his speech.
“Born as the First World War came to a close and departing from public life as the world marks half a century of the Universal declaration of human rights, I have reached that part of the long walk when the opportunity is granted, as it should be to all men and women, to some rest and tranquility in the village of my birth.
“As I sit in Qunu and grow as ancient as its hills, I will continue to entertain the hope that there has emerged a cadre of leaders in my own country and region, on my continent and in the world, which will not allow that any should be denied their freedom as we were; that any should be turned into refugees as we were; that any should be condemned to go hungry as we were; that any should be stripped of their human dignity, as we were.”
Programme Director, Ladies and gentlemen, these are more than just powerful words. To me, they represent a call by Madiba to those of us who hold the reins of power, or who have access to those who hold the reins of power, to be vigilant – and to remember where we’ve come from.
To me, these words say: “Protect your hard-won democracy at all costs.”
I’ve quoted extensively from the rich and the powerful, in the form of Clinton and Annan.
But I urge you all not forget how much Mandela stood for the poor and the marginalized, and for the rights of women and children.
Indeed, for much of his life, Madiba, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and many others fought for freedom – for a non-racial South Africa, which would offer ALL its citizens a place in the sun.
In 1994, Madiba walked with the vast majority of newly free South Africans on the first part of a brand new journey. It was not an easy walk. There were many challenges, certainly; but those of us who were there accepted that the new era was ours to work with and to shape.
As president, Madiba was a strong believer in unity and co-operation, often across political boundaries. Naturally, he had great faith in the ability of the ANC government to create a better life for all its citizens.
There were three paragraphs in his State of the Nation address on 24 May 1994 that, for me, speaks volumes about what drove him….
He said: “Our single most important challenge is … to help establish a social order in which the freedom of the individual will truly mean the freedom of the individual. We must construct the people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political liberties and human rights of all our citizens.
“Our definition of the freedom of the individual must be instructed by the fundamental objective to restore the human dignity of each and every South African.
“This requires that we speak not only of political freedom. My government’s commitment to create a people-centred society of liberty binds us to the pursuit of the goals of freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from deprivation, freedom from ignorance, freedom from suppression and freedom from fear. These freedoms are fundamental to the guarantee of human dignity.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we owe it to Mr Mandela – and especially to the poor of this province – to continue giving expression to his vision. We must continue and, indeed, speed up the delivery of houses, the creation of jobs, the development of a people-centred public transport system and the creation of safe society – all of which will help transform the Western Cape into a model province, and South Africa into an example for Africa and the rest of the world.
Thank you very much.
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