I never met Nelson Mandela, but I, like many people around the world, have felt an immense sense of loss over the past ten days. I’ve been surprised that not everyone shares this sense of loss, as I’ve come across people who are either indifferent about his death or believe Mandela ‘sold out’ black South Africans when he negotiated with the Apartheid government. To me, he was a legendary leader who made South Africa better, forever. We can all learn from his humility, sense of humour and emotional intelligence. He was always present in the moment, making whoever he was speaking to feel valued, from a cook to a president.
His funeral this morning was a fitting tribute, but I believe the biggest tribute we can pay him is still to come as we honour him through sustained actions that lead to change, and ultimately pave the way for a better life for every South African.
Ahmed Kathrada, Madiba’s close friend, summed up this sentiment when addressing mourners at the funeral this morning. He said: “Madahla, you’re abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality, justice, continue to serve as a source of enormous strength to many millions of people in South Africa and the world. You symbolise today Madahla, and always will, qualities of a collective leadership, reconciliation, unity, forgiveness, nation building and a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa. In this spirit you exemplify your life – it is up to the present generation and generations to come to take up the cudgels where you have left. “It is up to them to face all the challenges that South Africa faces today, that I will not name. In all these challenges we will be guided continuously by your wisdom and by your actions.”
It’s going to be telling to see how we choose to remember Madiba as the days, months and years fly by. I made my first (very little) step, by overcoming a fear of needles to donate blood. It was easy to overcome my phobia as I was caught up in the emotion of the week, but my actions need to be sustained and impact even more people. I still need to figure out my Doing it for Madiba action plan.
What are you going to be doing for Madiba? It could a small, but significant action, like treating people with more respect and considering different opinions. It could also be educating those people who are indifferent about his death to understand the sacrifices he and others made for us all. Or it could be creating a better South Africa for those people whose circumstances haven’t changed for the better and believe Mandela sold them out.
Whatever it is, let’s do it for Madiba!