“It is a great privilege to pay tribute to the memory of former President Nelson Mandela on behalf of the Democratic Alliance,” said Bobby Stevenson at a special sitting of the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, 9 December 2013.
I begin by tendering the apologies of Honourable Athol Trollip who could not get a flight from Johannesburg to East London and I also welcome my son James Stevenson who wanted to be here for this special occasion.
Our deepest condolences thoughts and prayers are with Madiba’s family. May the outpouring of unparalleled national grief comfort them at this difficult time; may they find the strength in the nation’s support to overcome the pain of this great loss.
When I first heard the news on Thursday evening of Madiba’s passing it brought back to me a memory of a meeting I had with him in 1990, prior to him addressing his welcome home rally in Motherwell. This was subsequently attended by 500,000 people.
I still treasure a vivid memory of that occasion as he came to greet me with his hand out stretched.
As I stand here today I can still sense the warmth of his presence. There was no doubt in my mind that one was standing in the presence of a great man. He displayed the features of strength, dignity and humility, values he lived out in his daily life.
To me former President Nelson Mandela’s greatest attribute was his ability to promote national reconciliation. He is a world icon in this regard.
At that welcome home rally, as a generous act of reconciliation, he paid tribute to Molly Blackburn, a former Progressive Federal Party member of the Provincial Parliament and of whom a committee room in this legislature is named after.
As a champion of the value of national reconciliation, he laid the foundation of our nation.
We all remember that great moment of 1995 when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup and Nelson Mandela appeared on the field wearing the green and gold jersey. The whole stadium erupted shouting Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!
In the book, Playing the enemy – Nelson Mandela and the game that made a nation, John Carlin quotes Van Zyl Slabbert as being amazed by the new South African passion of his born again compatriots. And I quote: “You should have seen the faces of these people around me. I remember looking at one of them and there were tears rolling down his face and he kept saying in Afrikaans: That’s my President…that’s my President.”
There were still more tears when Francois Pienaar was asked “What did it feel like to have 62, 000 fans supporting you here at the stadium?” he replied: “We didn’t have 62, 000 fans behind us, we had 43 million South Africans.”
Nelson Mandela succeeded in uniting a nation that had been torn apart by apartheid and all the evils that went with it.
In his 1994 inaugural speech as President of South Africa he said, inter alia, and I quote: “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasm that divides us has come; the time to build is upon us…
“We enter into a new covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans both black and white will be able to walk tall without any fear in their hearts, assured of their right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world”.
He further went on to say and I quote: “We understand that there is no easy road to freedom.”
We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success we must therefore act together as united people for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of the new world.
We all belong to the South African family – and we owe that sense of belonging to Madiba. This is his legacy. This is why my children are proud of what he has done for our country.
Through his humility, moral conviction and bold leadership, Madiba gave us a gift for which we and successive generations will be forever grateful. He gave us his vision of a free and inclusive South Africa and the unwavering belief that such a society could be achieved in his lifetime.
He was, quite simply, the greatest South African that ever lived and we shall never see his like again.
Let all South Africans join hands as we mourn Madiba’s passing and celebrate his life. Let us reaffirm his values and recapture his spirit in all we do.
In closing, I would like to read a part of a poem entitled – A Song of Praise by Antjie Krog.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
You gather the panels
Of a torn land
You stitch up the hearts
Of black, brown and white
You turn us toward each other for one another.
You, tracker of hearts
You, healer of people
So we shall establish peace
Peace, the mother of great nations
Lala Ngoxolo Madiba!
May your soul rest in peace.
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