Beloved South African leader and human rights pioneer Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013. On Wednesday, December 11, Mr. Pascal Losambe, Upper School Science teacher, honored the late Nelson Mandela in an inspirational and passionate address in an Upper School assembly. The text of his speech follows the video.
Dear Tata Madiba,
I celebrate your life and legacy that lives on beyond the grave. I fondly remember the images of you waving your fist in the air on that fateful day, February 11th, 1990, when you were released from prison after 27 years of bondage. The fist you waved represented strength for a people who were weary after 46 years of Apartheid. It is said, “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is like a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Madiba, you planted and watered a tree of life for a people that had lost hope.
The streets were filled with shouts of joy, dancing and laughter in celebration of the leader we once knew. To us, the Mandela that stood in front of the world was the Lion of South Africa. The man who flirted with the ideas of guerilla warfare and the co-founder of the armed militant group, Umkhonto We Sizwe, believed the fight for freedom could no longer be limited to nonviolent protest (“Manifesto of Umkhonto we Sizwe”. African National Congress. 16 December 1961). The white government labeled you a terrorist, but you were our hero and our champion. The scarred feet of those who marched for liberation would once again be made beautiful.
Finally, we thought, there is going to be justice. Justice for the mother whose son was beaten beyond recognition with his shoes being the only way to identify his body. Justice for the husband whose wife’s body was burnt alive while white soldiers smoked and drank beers: laughing and joking as if they were at a barbeque. Justice for the wife who went to bed alone night after night without knowledge of the whereabouts of her husband. Justice for the young girl who was jailed for years and lost part of her childhood because she was out after her curfew without a pass. Justice for the black man and white woman whose lives were threatened because of the love they shared.
We began to dream of a new South Africa in which the white’s would be held accountable for their actions with the sword. They would look in the mirror and see the face of fear, pain and tears once inflicted on the black people. Their dancing would turn into mourning and their joy into sorrow. One could hear the echo of the battle song resounding from the mountains and valleys of South Africa: “kill the boers, kill the farmers! kill the Boers, kill the farmers!”
How easily we forgot that when you went to prison, the rhythm of your song resonated with the principles of Mahatma Ghandi. You wanted peace before violence and unity before division. The words you spoke as you prepared to walk out your 27 year sentence painted you as a man of peace before violence. You said: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination…I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Madiba, upon your release, you began to dream again. You dreamt of a new South Africa in which love and unity would cover a multitude of sins. You knew that Apartheid served to erode the black soul, and in their imminent defeat, the whites would be victors if we looked to violence. You reminded us of the very heartbeat of the African spirit, UBUNTU, our strength is in unity and not in division. You spoke of whites, coloreds and blacks sitting at the table of brotherhood partaking in the meal of reconciliation. Madiba, you knew that the wounds of the nation would NOT be healed with the band-aid of armed struggle, but with the miracle of unity and forgiveness. You knew that the gospel of forgiveness would shoot invisible bullets into the hearts of hate and empower a nation to move forward towards healing.
I wanted to believe, Madiba. I wanted to understand. What about the widow? The orphan? The crippled? The hurting? What about all those men and women who died for this cause? How could they love? What about the 27 years you were locked up humiliated and shamed? How could YOU love?
UBUNTU! You believed that as the nation healed, individual lives would be healed. It is my hope and prayer that those people who suffered great losses found some solace in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where their sons, daughters, mothers and fathers were once again humanized. The perpetrators were able to sit in front of the family members of the victims of Apartheid, look each mother, father, son and daughter in the eye and tell them how their beloveds died. On this stage, the white warriors of Apartheid would repent and seek amnesty for the evils they committed. At his hearing in 1997 after pleading guilty to ordering the murder of Griffiths Mxenge, a human rights lawyer that was stabbed 40 times, commander Dirk Coetzee spoke the following words: “(I feel)… humiliation, embarrassment and the hopelessness of a pathetic (man), ‘I am sorry for what I have done’ … What else can I offer them? A pathetic nothing, so in all honesty I don’t expect the Mxenge family to forgive me, because I don’t know how I ever in my life would be able to forgive a man like Dirk Coetzee if he had done to me what I had done to them…” (Edelstein, J. Stories and photographs from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Good & Evil (2002)).
In 1994, as I walked into my predominately white classroom after attending an all black school, I knew that it was a new day for South Africa. The rainbow nation was born. Protected by a new constitution drafted under your guidance, South Africa would, as you said, “Never, never and never again experience the oppression of one by another.”
Inspired by the ineffable spirit of Ubuntu, artists painted pictures of unity. Musicians sang songs of friendship. People from every sphere of life were encouraged to “make every effort to keep the unity of spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Powered by the force of unity and forgiveness, our national rugby team beat the mighty All Blacks from New Zealand and won the 1995 rugby World Cup on African soil. In the birthing process, we did experience some labor pains, but the path you paved was one towards liberty and freedom.
Madiba, I am thankful for your life and your legacy. You lived a life worthy of your calling. It is written “how beautiful the feet of those who bring good news” (Isaiah 52:7). On your long walk to freedom, we look down to see your feet and today we call them beautiful. You are now walking your journey in perfect peace. There are no tears in your eyes; there is no more sorrow; there is no more crying and there is no more pain. Hamba Gahle baba, lala gahle baba! We love you Madiba, we miss you Madiba, we thank you Madiba. You inspired the world with your life.
Loseke Pascal Losambe