Celebration of the Life of Nelson Mandela

DA MPL John Cupido signs the Book of Condolence during a special sitting of the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature on Monday, 9 December 2013, in honour of former President Nelson Mandela.  Picture:  Cecile Greyling

DA MPL John Cupido signs the Book of Condolence during a special sitting of the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature on Monday, 9 December 2013, in honour of former President Nelson Mandela.         Picture: Cecile Greyling

The following speech was made by Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape and Leader of the Democratic Alliance at a special sitting of the National Assembly.

Mr. Speaker:

We are gathered here to pay our respects to the most revered person of our age. We are humbled and proud that, like him, we call ourselves South African.

Today our thoughts and prayers are with Madiba’s immediate family, his South African family, and the global community that seeks to uphold the values he embodied. His death has united the world in grief, but also in hope. He showed us that service and sacrifice do indeed leave the world a better place.

More has been written about him than of any other person this century. So what is there to add? Time will heal the pain. What must remain, and grow within us, is a sense of the enormous responsibility we have inherited to continue his work. He has handed the baton to us. We dare not drop it.

I found the best summary of our responsibility in the words of Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jnr, who like Madiba, became a global icon in the same cause.

She said: The struggle for freedom is never finally won. You earn it and win it in every generation.

I was particularly struck by the word “earn”. In an era full of “demands”, it is helpful to hear the word “earn”. And we must now ask: how do we earn the freedom he bequeathed us?

His most famous phrase was “Long Walk to Freedom” which is also the title of his autobiography. That destination is not yet reached. It never is. Ahead of us still lies a long walk to freedom that each South African can use to improve their lives. Freedom you can use is freedom fulfilled. Today millions of South Africans have formal freedoms but still cannot use them to improve their lives because they lack the education, the security, the health and the means to do so.

Our work is to ensure that many more South Africans are able to use the freedoms that Madiba bequeathed them. And that they appreciate the discipline and diligence required to be free. Otherwise we betray his legacy.

Of the millions of written and spoken words in the last few days, there are none more so than his famous words from the dock during the Treason Trial. “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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

But, however profound the well-known sound bites may be, it is also important to go beyond them. Just a few short sentences above those words in his most famous speech, are these:

“Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs as it certainly must, it will not change that policy.”

The best tribute we can pay Madiba is to ensure that our political debate focuses on issues of how best we can ensure that each South African child, whatever the circumstances of their birth, inherits freedom they can use.

Let his death open that new chapter. Lala ngoxolo Tata. Asoze sikulibale .