Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP, at the opening of the Mandela Exhibition at the Apartheid Museum, Braamfontein.
SEE IT HERE: Video slideshow produced by Katlego Moeng: Depicting Mandela exhibit highlights featuring Naledi Pandor, Desmond Tutu and Kader Asmal - The Sowetan
08 November 2008
Prof Kader Asmal, Chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Museum
Prof Jakes Gerwel, Chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation
Mr John Kani, Chairperson of the Apartheid Museum
This exhibition, "Mandela - Leader, Comrade, Negotiator, Prisoner, Statesman", celebrates the life and times of Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
It reflects the key values of Nelson Mandela's life and work: respect, reconciliation, and dignity. These are not the values that Madiba proclaimed from the rooftops, but the values that we can discern in his life, his work and his personal conduct.
Mandela understood that patterns of behaviour are not accidental products of nature, but are acquired through social interaction and nurturing. As he observed, "One of the most powerful ways of children and young adults acquiring values is to see individuals they admire and respect exemplify those values in their own being and conduct. Parents and educators or politicians or priests who say one thing and do another send mixed messages to those in their charge who then learn not to trust them. The question of leadership … is therefore of vital importance."
President Mandela will always be known as a leader who played a key role of sacrifice, struggle and commitment in the fight against apartheid.
He is the leader who chose reconciliation over revenge. He is a leader whose moral courage defined our era of liberation, so much so that our history books are already defining the period of our freedom as the "Age of Mandela".
Mac Maharaj argued that, "His (Mandela's) role has been so crucial (to the negotiated transition from apartheid to democracy) that the idea of such a transition without Mandela is almost unthinkable".
Mandela led without bitterness. He was willing to reconcile. He put South Africa and its people first.
In President Clinton's words: "He taught us the freedom of forgiveness and the power of humility".
This is wonderfully reflected in this groundbreaking exhibition that traces how President Mandela built our nation through forgiveness, persuasion, and love.
Leadership matters. It makes a difference. Mr Mandela's speech from the dock during the defence case in the Rivonia Trial on 20 April 1964 is worth recalling forty four years later.
"During my life time I have dedicated myself to the 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."
And as Joel Joffe, one of Mr Mandela's defence attorneys recalls in his book, The State vs Nelson Mandela: The trial that changed South Africa:
"At this moment he paused, a long pause, in which one could hear a pin drop in the court, and then looking squarely at the judge he finished: 'It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to achieve'. Then dropping his voice, very low, he added: 'But if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die'. He sat down in a moment of profound silence, the kind of silence that I remember only in climactic moments in the theatre before the applause thunders out. Here in court there was no applause … from the public benches one could hear people release their breath with a deep sigh as the moment of tension passed."
It was great, selfless leadership. He said of his commitment to the struggle against apartheid and for freedom: "We all did so not for any personal gain or material rewards. We took this stand because these were goals we saw as worthy and virtuous."
But Mr Mandela was no saint. His life and work should be examined, critically assessed and interrogated. Cornel West reminded us in 2006 that we should not "make Nelson Mandela some kind of icon on a pedestal belonging to a museum. He is a wave in an ocean, part of a rich tradition that raises certain kinds of questions, beginning with our own lives and our willingness to muster the courage to examine who we are as humans."
How do we reflect on the legacy of Madiba at the current juncture of our political history? How do we understand him?
He was born in and of the struggle. As he once famously proclaimed, "The struggle is my life".
He was in many ways the product of the liberation movement, tempered by a culture of criticism and dialogue and hardened by the responsibilities of the movement and the accountability of leadership.
Oliver Tambo wrote to Mandela when it became clear in exile that Mandela had initiated contact with the National Party in the midst of the turbulent 1980s, demanding: "You are answerable, Nelson. We want to know what your reasons are for talking with the 'boers'".
It is this tradition of openness, debate, and dialogue that produced the likes of Albert Luthuli, Lilian Ngoyi, Ruth First, Walter Sisulu, Albertina Sisulu and many others.
I want, in conclusion, to quote the internationally acclaimed Nigerian playwright and author Wole Soyinka:
Your bounty threatens me, Mandela, that taut
Drumskin of your heart on which our millions
Dance. I fear we latch, fat leeches
On your veins. Our daily imprecations
Dull keen edges of your will
Compromises deplete your act's repletion-
Feeding will-voided stomachs of a continent,
What will be left of you, Mandela?