Memorial Service for the late first President of a Democratic South Africa Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela:
Bryanston Methodist Church
December 11, 2013
By Daphne Mashile-Nkosi

Programme Directors,
Reverend Gamede,
Esteemed Members of the Clergy, 
Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg,
Presidents of the Black Business Council, Business Unity South Africa, and Afrikaanse Handels Instituut,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Fellow mourners:

Opening Remarks

First of all, I would like to thank the Bryanston Methodist Church, for allowing us to come to this Place of Worship to pay tribute to the founding father of a democratic South Africa, the late President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

We have gathered here to mourn the departure of this rare human being whose life was a true embodiment of sacrifice.

It is the values of this elder statesman that have brought us together in this fashion.

It is the same values that have led the entire world to stretch a hand of comfort to our grieving nation.

We mourn the corporeal departure of an outstanding being who was our leader.

One who was willing to bear the brunt of an unjust system: for he considered death nobler than life under a repressive regime. We were mere pupils when this African Colossus was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

Despite the pain he endured in jail, upon his release, like the Prophet Isaiah, he requested that swords be turned into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.

It is because he understood that the oppressor needed to be liberated as well. He understood, the enlightening words of Nikolai Ostrovsky, that:

“Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world - the fight for the Liberation of Mankind."

Mandela the Businessman

Fellow mourners, there is a part of Madiba’s life that I wish to explore, which is seldom spoken about.

Madiba was a businessman who devoted his life to the finest cause in the world – the fight for the liberation of his people.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Madiba recounts that:

“In August of 1952, I opened my own law office. ... Oliver Tambo was then working for a firm called Kovalsky and Tuch. I often visited him there during his lunch hour, and made a point of sitting in a Whites Only chair in the Whites Only waiting room. …It seemed natural for us to practice together and I asked him to join me.”

"Mandela and Tambo" read the brass plate on our office door in Chancellor House, a small building just across the street from the marble statues of justice standing in front of the Magistrate's Court in central Johannesburg. Our building, owned by Indians, was one of the few places where Africans could rent offices in the city. From the beginning, Mandela and Tambo was besieged with clients. We were not the only African lawyers in South Africa, but we were the only firm of African lawyers. For Africans, we were the firm of first choice and last resort. To reach our offices each morning, we had to move through a crowd of people in the hallways, on the stairs, and in our small waiting room.”

The birth of the Mandela and Tambo law firm is a clear illustration of the entrepreneurial spirit that Madiba had.

But, he was not a conventional businessman.

He was a businessman who sought to use his expertise to the benefit of his countrymen.

He was touched by the plight of the African population that often sought legal representation against a thoroughly unscrupulous regime to no avail. When he saw the cruelty that Africans were subjected to and the exorbitant rates that they were charged when seeking legal counsel, against that cruel and unjust system, he was moved with compassion and used his law firm not to make profit but to fight for the finest cause in the world – the cause of justice.

The justice that demanded that all who are created in the image of God should be treated with reverence and equality.

He chose to become an Advocate for the Cause of Justice.

He could have chosen the path of least resistance like some of the African lawyers of his time, but he chose differently.

He could have chosen to capitalise on the marginalised section of our population and amass wealth for himself, but he chose differently.

He could have chosen to turn a blind eye to the cries and wails of his people, but still he chose differently.

It was this that prompted President Mbeki to remark on Madiba’s 1999 Farewell:

“But you have been where you should not have been. You have faced death and said - do your worst!

You have inhabited the dark, dark dungeons of freedom denied, itself a denial to live in a society where freedom was denied. You have looked at the faces of some of those who were your comrades, who turned their eyes away from you because somewhere in their mortal being there lingered the remnants of a sense of shame, always and for ever whispering softly - no to treachery! A thing in the shadows, present at every dawn, repeating, repeating, repeating - I am Conscience, to whom you have denied a home.

You have not asked - who indeed are these for whose lives I was prepared to die!”

Indeed, he did not ask who these were that he was prepared to die for. He did not even seem to care what race, creed, colour, or gender they were. It did not bother him whether they were royals or commoners, learned or unlearned. He chose to lay down his life for these.

His sacrifice is congruent with that which the great liberator of Israel also took, which the writer of the Book of Hebrews captures as follows: "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, 
refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. 
He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time."

It is this purpose-driven life that we have come to mourn, but also to celebrate.

How can we preserve his legacy?

In light of what Mr. Mandela stood for, the values he upheld, a question therefore arises: what tribute befits a man of such calibre? In other words, how can we preserve his legacy and ensure that it is not betrayed?

I say this because history is replete with examples displaying how quick human beings are to forget.

So, what needs to be done to ensure the preservation of his legacy, not by our words, but by our very deeds?

I would argue that the tribute that befits Madiba is to have the ideals which he stood for engraved in our hearts – namely, service and selflessness, justice and equality for all.

I would argue that these demonstrated the significance of servant leadership to us.

He had no reason to sacrifice his life and that of his family for us, yet because of the spirit of servanthood, he did just that.

He was a man driven by values incomprehensible.

Values that said I am my brother’s keeper.

Like a master builder, he laid the foundation for us to build on.

The challenge now lies with us to guard how we build on this foundation.

We could choose to use gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw to build on this foundation.

But I wish to urge you to build with great care.

We owe it to him to use the finest material in building our nation.

We owe it to him to possess a modicum of the noble values that he stood for, as we continue with the great work of building our nation.

We owe it to him and those who immolated their lives and went to gallows with a song of hope that:

“Freedom is in our hands, Rolihlahla Mandela.”

It cannot be that the blood of these martyrs should be trampled upon. Such men cannot be accompanied to their last dwelling place by the wailing of the living. No! Such men should be accompanied with songs of joy and praise.

Conclusion

These men and women are they that deserve to be celebrated and emulated.

These men and women are they who form so great a cloud of witnesses that encourages us lay aside every element of selfishness and to run with our eyes fixed on that glorious future, which they did not live to see.

They saw it with the mind’s eye and embraced it.

Though they are no more, yet they continue to live.

Though Madiba is no longer with us, yet he continues to live.

Although his departure has carved a void which seems to afflict us with greater intensity, he still continues to live.

For death cannot kill him.

Allow me to conclude with the words of the English Cleric John Donne in his Poem, Death Be Not Proud:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”

HAMBA KAHLE DALIBHUNGA! FARE THEE WELL MADIBA!

I Thank You.

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