On 9 December, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, LeadSA and Brand SA held a special tribute event to commemorate the life and legacy of the late Nelson Mandela. The event was hosted at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg.
Dr David Molapo opened the evening’s proceedings by inviting all guests to stand and sing South Africa’s National Anthem. Dr Wesley Mabusa then led the audience in prayer and song.
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Prof Njabulo Ndebele, officially welcomed esteemed guests, members of the Mandela family and distinguished leaders of government and faith, saying that it is difficult to speak about someone was present at the building for so many years.
“We feel his spirit here, even when he is not here. This is the home of the Centre of Memory and I hope that you will all find an opportunity to go into the Centre and feel the spirit of the person that has brought us all here, together,” he said.
Councillor Parks Tau, Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, welcomed Archbishop Desmond Tutu, describing him as “a man who shares something with our revered father and leader”.
“Like Madiba, the Archbishop is a Nobel Peace Laureate. Each living within a 500m radius of each other, Vilakazi Street in Soweto is the home of two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. As the City of Johannesburg we are proud to be associated with the name of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and we are proud that he associated with the city as the place of his political birth,” Tau said.
Archbishop Tutu relives the legacy
“I was minding my own business one day in San Francisco when a young woman rushed up to me and said, 'Hello Archbishop Mandela' … She thought she was getting two for the price of one … She certainly won’t make that mistake again,” joked Archbishop Tutu as he took to the podium.
Archbishop Tutu acknowledged the presence of the Elders, a group established by Nelson Mandela that includes distinguished global leaders, including Mary Robinson, the former Prime Minister of Ireland, and thanked renowned singer Peter Gabriel and Richard Branson for their support.
“What would have happened had Madiba died in prison? The world would have believed that this man and his comrades espoused the Communist principles and values so highlighted by the then-political leaders. But the anti-apartment movement triumphed. Justice and good triumphed, and we owe a great debt to our friends in other lands who joined the struggle against injustice and fought for Madiba’s right to walk free.
“We thank them – all of you here, and all of you who may be listening to this address all over the globe. We as South Africa want to say thank you,” he said.
Speaking about the emotional and physical toll 27 years in prison must have taken on Mandela, Archbishop Tutu spoke about Madiba’s emergence from prison as a stalwart of forgiveness.
“The world watched, expecting a racial bloodbath, yet the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission unfolded before their very eyes – a drama that many thought impossible.
“What a fantastic gift is Mandela, a global icon of forgiveness, of generosity of spirit, a person who invited the prosecutor [of the Rivonia trial] to lunch at the Presidency. The same man who visited the Afrikaner enclave of Oranje to enjoy tea and koeksisters with the widow of the architect of apartheid, Betsy Verwoerd.
“The chemistry of this country began to be affected as a result of Madiba’s actions,” he said.
“Do you remember that day he wore the Springbok jersey? Any other President would have looked clumsy in that attire, yet Madiba emerged from Ellis Park, shuffling his shuffle, and the crowd erupted in glee, chanting his name.
“Did you see what happened in 2010? For two months there was no crime. People from the suburbs walked around Soweto … at night! So if we can achieve that for two months, why not forever?"
Referring to South Africa as that repulsive caterpillar, the world’s pariah, now transformed into a beautiful butterfly, Archbishop Tutu commented that while we are all in mourning, we must acknowledge that we received an incredible gift in Madiba.
“We also want to pay homage to Winnie [Madikizela-Mandela]. We want to thank her for who she was during the struggle. We thank you."
Archbishop Tutu also thanked Mrs Graça Machel, saying, “Thank you for giving Madiba a happy ending!”
In closing, Archbishop Tutu shared an anecdote about Madiba after he spent his first night of freedom at Bishop’s Court, the official residence of the Archbishop.
“In the morning, as Madiba was preparing to leave, he wanted to thank the domestic staff, and he did something I’ve seen him do many, many times – he went into the kitchen and thanked the staff. It was Madiba’s special way, saying to people that not many of us are VIPs, but all of us are VSPs – very special persons.”
George Bizos on Archbishop Tutu
“Throughout South Africa’s political trials, one of the regular visitors was the Archbishop. In Delmas, during a political trial, the Archbishop walked into court and asked, ‘Where are the terrorists?’
“When the policeman replied that they were ‘down below’, the Archbishop began to descend the stairs to the dock. When he was told that he wasn’t allowed to go down to see the prisoners, the Archbishop replied with confidence and authority: ‘I am the Archbishop, you can’t tell me what to do.’
“When the policeman asked what he wanted with the prisoners, the Archbishop replied, ‘It may surprise you that I have come to pray with them.’
“The authority’s lack of knowledge of who they were dealing with was part and parcel of the education we tried to give them,” said Bizos. “Yet you, Archbishop, and your brethren played a very important part in the struggle by identifying yourself with the people that we were defending. It gave them courage, it gave them pride, it served as an example to other young people to follow their example, and I thank you.”
Celebrations in song
The Soweto Gospel Choir and Johnny Clegg delivered a heartfelt rendition of Asimbonanga; Danny K serenaded guests with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo song Homeless; and South African singer PJ Powers regaled the audience with the very same song she sang when Madiba stepped out on to Ellis Park in 1995, World in Union.
Mama Africa Yvonne Chaka Chaka sang Amazing Man, a song dedicated to Madiba, and Ross Learmonth from Prime Circle sang Breathing. Lloyd Cele, Ed Jordan and Louise Carver also sang moving tributes, while Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse delivered a heartfelt musical tribute to Madiba on the saxophone.
Brand SA’s Miller Matola, LeadSA’s Yusuf Abramjee and Foundation CEO Sello Hatang rounded off the evening’s events, thanking guests and musicians for attending.
“I’d like to remind you once again why we are here. It’s because Madiba expected us to. To all the singers who were here, thank you. He would have expected that all genres of music come together and celebrate in unity,” Hatang said.
“The best way we can honour this great son of the soil is by recognising that somewhere in each one of us is a Madiba. Let's take this legacy forward by living like Mandela,” said Matola.
Abramjee urged all South Africans to pay tribute to the father of the nation by joining together in celebration.
“We hope that you will travel back safely, and continue to not only mourn and grieve, but to celebrate Madiba’s life,” he said.