Audience members at the Annual Lecture
After Mr Kofi Annan’s speech, members of the invited audience streamed outside Wits University’s Linder Auditorium, most seemingly impressed with his views on African development.
The tone of the event was simple and understated sophistication, rather than stuffy and officious. The Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir led the 1500-strong invited crowd in the national anthem and closed with again with song. Black and red were the most popular colours in the audience, with suits and jackets more dominant than traditional attire.
Chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), Professor Jakes Gerwel, set the tone for the evening at the outset, saying “Dialogue … has been at the heart of what has made Nelson Mandela’s life and work such a remarkable achievement.”
Mr Mandela himself said self-deprecatingly, “We do not think that our name adds anything to the occasion.” He joked that the audience were only attending “to see what an 89-year-old looks like”.
He added on a more serious note that the evening’s key speaker, Mr Annan, was “A distinguished international figure and a great son of our continent.” He went on, “Kofi Annan will be remembered as one of the most loyal defenders of multi-lateralism.”
There to welcome everyone was vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, Professor Loyiso Nongxa, who welcomed Mr Annan, back “home”.
However, it was Mr Annan’s candid speech that proved to be the main attraction.
After the speech, the assembled dignitaries were mostly complementary.
Foundation trustee and Member of Parliament, Dr Kader Asmal, said: “Kofi Annan is of the same mould as President Thabo Mbeki – intellectual contribution, no histrionics, no stage dancing, just sober and radically sharp analysis. This lecture was a brilliant tribute to an icon, Nelson Mandela.”
Annan’s words impress the crowd
“Kofi Annan reminded us of our responsibility as Africans to our continent,” said United Democratic Movement president, Mr Bantubonke Holomisa. “I was also reminded that we need to learn to respect the Constitution and respect the rule of law. Leaders must respect the two-terms of office law, and not try to take more.”
“The lecture was wonderful,” said boxing legend and businessman “Baby Jake” Matlala. “We learn from every single one of these wonderful initiatives by the Foundation. We need to be taught and reminded of our responsibility so that we in turn can teach our children, who are the future of this country.”
Deputy president of the African National Congress Jacob Zuma, remarked: “What came out of this lecture was what Africa needs, particularly the leaders. The time has passed to blame others. We need to work on our problems ourselves.”
Former Pan Africanist Congress leader Dr Motsoko Pheko said: “The lecture was very educative and was relevant to Africa’s needs. We need to get assistance where we can, but as a Pan-Africanist, I believe we must do some things ourselves. There is only one Africa, and any instability that affects any country in Africa affects us all.
This kind of lecture contributes tremendously to our education on the realities of Africa.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said: “All his life Madiba and the ANC have always been internationalist. They have always worked for the bigger freedom, not just South Africa. This was an affirmation of that.”
Member of Parliament and Foreign Affairs Committee Whip Mrs Albertina Luthuli said: “It was just fantastic. It put so many things together for my work.”
Human rights lawyer George Bizos said: “These are the two great Africans of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century; it was great to have them on the same platform together.”
Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs said: “It was wonderful to hear so much inspired common sense – one cannot hear it often enough.”
A 1500-strong audience attended the event
Wits Education Professor Mary Metcalfe said: “He identified the key issues and explained their importance superbly. It was a challenge to Africa. He was brave, and didn’t shy away from some of the current crises.”
Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer said: “It was an absolutely marvelous occasion. To bring together two people like Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan – what a privilege! It gives one new heart for the problems facing our country.”
“The message I got today was that Africa has issues to deal with by ourselves,” said director of accounting firm KPMB, Mr Sikkie Kajee. “We can no longer blame the colonial past for the issues we have to deal with. Mr Annan is certainly no fan of Mr Mugabe!
“The lecture was great, it was thought-provoking and called for soul-searching,” said businesswoman Ms Salukazi Dakile-Hlongwane, chief executive of Nozala Investments. “Of course it is not enough that we come and hear Kofi Annan talk, we must act. The things he said today should become our prayer every morning, in fact our national anthem. We must let this kind of dialogue change our lives.”
“I think it was fantastic,” said Christine Hansen of United States marketing company 33 Productions. “He is an incredibly inspiring speaker. I wish the world would follow suit and follow the legacy of Nelson Mandela.”
Elijah Adera of Skillshare International, a British international development agency, said: “It was moving in terms of projecting the African continent. Mandela wants to see peace in Africa and the whole of Africa wants to see peace. More and more, African countries are respecting human rights. Before, human rights were seen as something from Europe, but human rights are for all of us, black or white. We have to respect human rights.”
But not everyone was complimentary. Businessman Udo W. Froese said: “I thought is was boring. It was laborious and told us nothing new. It was same old, same old. I was looking for something with substance.”