Madiba: A leader of stature

The victory over apartheid belongs to all who helped to end that system, but the greatest, most inspiring figure of the anti-apartheid struggle undoubtedly was former president Nelson Mandela. His example and the deprivations he endured gave people courage in the darkest hours.

He stood for democracy and justice, even when it was to his own detriment. His life was characterised by respect and tolerance for the viewpoints, language, culture and religion of others.

The best tribute to Madiba, better than any monument or street name, is the Constitution our country got in 1996. One could describe it as the Madiba Constitution. It was he who led South Africa in the transition from apartheid to democracy and who shaped a new and free South Africa. The Constitution embodies his values, his viewpoint, and his respect for diversity and for the universal rights of every person in this country.

The best way to honour Madiba’s legacy is to protect and uphold the Constitution. Our country would be a far better place if the Constitution were applied more extensively. In this regard one thinks particularly of the socio-economic provisions of the bill of human rights – regarding housing, employment and food, among other things – that may help to restore our broken humanity in South Africa.

The right to basic and further education forms part of the Constitution, and in this regard, too, Mandela himself set the example. His commitment to education makes him a role model for all lecturers and students, teachers and learners. It is this conviction that made him say on occasion, ““Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

It is this mindset, among other things, that Stellenbosch University recognised in 1996 by awarding Madiba an honorary doctorate. At the time, Maties said that he had become a living symbol of empowerment through study, of peace and reconciliation through negotiation, and of respect for those values that make for a just and human society. I agree, and that is why we are paying tribute to Madiba.

He gave us yet another great gift: the stature and calibre of his leadership, which will remain a model for generations to come. Leadership of the calibre that Madiba has displayed consistently over the years makes him stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Not only did he remain steadfast during 27 years in a prison cell in his pursuit of freedom and dignity for all people. When one thinks back to the stormy period during the run-up to the 1994 elections – those moments when our country hovered on the edge of the precipice of civil war due to the Boipatong massacre and the assassination of Chris Hani, to name but two incidents – it was Madiba who succeeded in pouring oil on troubled waters and preserving the fragile peace on all sides.

His strong leadership was exactly the reason why he could persuade opposing groups to make concessions. That is why South Africans in general, not only one particular group, hold him in high esteem.

In times when young people are searching for good leadership, they only have to look at his example for inspiration and an inclusive vision of the future, which our country needs so desperately. In this time of mourning our message to the youth must be to pursue the values, approach and leadership stature that Mandela has shown. In this way, we shall make a valuable investment in a future of peaceful coexistence in a just society.

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