By Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation joins millions of people in South Africa and around the world who feel a profound sense of loss at the passing of Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela.
At the same time, we are immensely proud that one of our own is loved and revered on every corner of the globe and stands tall among the greatest leaders of the twentieth century.
We wish to convey our sincere condolences to Tata Madiba’s family, from whom he had been separated for almost three decades. These are extremely difficult times for the Mandela family, but we are sure that they will see it through with courage, grace and dignity.
His close comrades and friends will certainly miss his wisdom and guidance. South Africans of all shades and hues mourn the death of this great freedom fighter and national reconciler. The world today is so much poorer after having lost one of its most inspiring sons.
Born into royalty, Mandela displayed leadership qualities from an early age when he played the roles of cowherd, student, lawyer, activist, revolutionary, prisoner and president with dedication, fortitude and aplomb. He did so by displaying an extraordinary set of qualities and values that will be his legacy to those who survive him and future generations around the world. It was the late Walter Sisulu who recognised that Madiba had the essential qualities of leadership - clarity of thought, eloquence, persuasiveness and charisma. Mandela utilised these qualities to the service of the liberation struggle and later to the country as a whole.
Madiba was undoubtedly a visionary; a trait that he shared with the likes of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Lilian Ngoyi, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo and Moses Kotane. Along with Sisulu and Tambo, they shifted the African National Congress (ANC) to a more militant path by the adoption in 1949 of the Programme of Action. In the 1950s, he was a leading figure in the Defiance Campaign - serving as its Volunteer-in-Chief, and the Campaign for the Congress of the People. This period also saw him embracing the necessity of a more inclusive approach towards the liberation struggle, where his earlier opposition to working with communists and organisations such as the South African Indian Congress dissipated as a more non-racial ethos came to be embedded in the Congress Movement.
The key roles that he played earned him the wrath of the apartheid regime. He found himself harassed, banned, arrested and placed on trial. Mandela would feature as an accused in all the major trials of the 20th century, namely, the Defiance Campaign Trial (1952), the Treason Trial (1956-61) and the Rivonia Trial (1963-64).
After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Madiba was among those who recognised that new modes of struggle would be required to defeat the apartheid state. They persuaded the leadership of the ANC and the Congress Alliance that the armed struggle needed to supplement united mass action and the international isolation of the apartheid regime. Madiba was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. It is in this capacity that he took leave of his family as he operated underground. This demonstrated his qualities, in equal measure, of vision and courage.
These qualities were displayed once more during the Rivonia Trial. In the face of a possible death sentence, Madiba and his colleagues decided that the trial would be a political one that should be used to highlight the illegality of the apartheid government. We will never forget the closing lines of his statement from the dock, wherein he proclaimed:
“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 achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
At the end of the trial, Mandela and his co-accused were sentenced in June 1964 to life imprisonment.
Arriving on Robben Island, Mandela was firm in his belief that they were no longer leaders of the movement, but prisoners. According to him, the leaders of the ANC were Chief Luthuli and Oliver Tambo, and the ANC-in-exile. Even so, in prison he continued to play a leadership role, struggling against cruel and inhumane conditions. The launch of the Release Mandela Campaign internationally catapulted him into a global symbol of resistance to apartheid and indeed all forms of oppression.
Mandela eschewed individualism by working as part of a collective leadership. In Robben Island, he was a permanent member of the High Organ and worked with the likes of Walter Sisulu, Raymond Mhlaba and Govan Mbeki. As a prisoner, Mandela never sought and also refused special treatment of any kind.
As political pressure intensified against the apartheid regime and the regional and global balance of forces began to shift in the 1980s, he recognised the need to negotiate with the apartheid regime and started discussions on a political settlement to the conflict in South Africa. His stance in those discussions was to impress on the government-of-the-day the necessity of it having to start negotiations with the ANC. He used those discussions to outline the basic preconditions for any talks between the ANC and the government.
After the release of all political prisoners and the unbanning of the ANC, Mandela led negotiations with President FW De Klerk administration. He showed his mettle during trying times that included the Boipatong massacre and internecine violence; and he ensured that the country did not descend into civil strife after the assassination of Chris Hani. It was during this period that Madiba became the de facto President. His appeal for calm on television displayed statesmanship and his presidential qualities for all to see. His inauguration as President in 1994 confirmed once more the leadership role of Madiba.
It was the mark of Madiba to recognise that ours was a severely fractured nation that required great healing. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and made nation-building and social cohesion the priority of his presidency.
As we look back to almost 20 years of democracy, we witness both the solidity of Madiba’s legacy to the nation-state. The attainment of a truly non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and equitable society is still a long way off, and will require unwavering adherence to the vision and principles that Mandela left for us all.
As South Africans, we are immensely proud that the name Nelson Mandela will enjoy a place in history along with those of Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel, Martin Luther King Junior and Mahatma Gandhi, and will forever reverberate as an international symbol of justice, equality, leadership, courage and magnanimity.
For more about the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, refer to www.kathradafoundation.org.