Below is a speech delivered by Zapu alternate secretary general Strike Mnkandla at a special memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela organised by the Bulawayo City Council and local churches.
This is a special day in the life of Bulawayo, when people from all walks of life, regardless of political affiliation, come to honour the late former President of the Republic of South Africa, the Honourable Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. May I take this opportunity, therefore, to thank and congratulate the organizers and the city authorities, through the Mayor, for rising to the occasion.
I am standing in for Dr. Dumiso Dabengwa, who in his capacity as President of ZAPU and a diligent citizen, would have wished to be with us this morning. He is in South Africa where he went to join the people of that country and our friends in the African National Congress (ANC) and their Alliance partners (SACP and COSATU) as they mourn the legendary Nelson Mandela.
A few days ago the world witnessed a unique gathering when at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg a record number of dignitaries from around the world joined South Africans to pay tribute to the late Tata Nelson Mandela. Fondly addressed by his struggle name “Madiba”, the late Mandela leaves us an unusual combination of achievements and examples to emulate. This explains the diversity of leaders from all continents, ideologies and religious persuasions that were represented at the ceremony in Johannesburg.
Indeed, the memory of this great politician, even as he heads to his resting place in a quiet spot in Qunu in Eastern Cape, is fast becoming a fount of spiritual lessons, the virtues of selflessness in public life, and the urgency of peace and reconciliation around the world in order to improve the lives of ordinary people. It is not just a duty but an honour to be part of this memorial service to a world icon, a great African, an architect of a new and prosperous South Africa, and a lasting inspiration for Zimbabweans who believe in democracy and peace.
It is futile to try and capture the full significance of Tata Nelson Mandela in a ceremony like this. I hope the stakeholders represented here today find time and space to unpack the importance of this gift of South Africa to the world in a series of thematic events after this. For today there are bullet-points that I would like to touch on as part of ZAPU’s contribution, as follows:
• The ANC tried everything in the book to achieve democracy, but after 50 futile years the young Mandela and his colleagues decided to resort to the armed struggle. It became clear to him and his comrades that only force could change the balance of power to free the black majority oppressed and increasingly humiliated by the racist, white “Apartheid” state that was being refined after its establishment in 1948. It is remarkable and salutary and instructive that while Mandela took up arms he was not taken over by arms of war. Instead he believed in using weapons to create the conditions for peace and socio-economic reconstruction. After spending 27 years in Robben Island and other prisons, piloted South Africa’s transition to peace and reconciliation. Beyond promoting reconciliation and movement toward reconstruction at home, he supported peace-building elsewhere in Africa, mediating in conflicts in a couple of countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
• It is easy to romanticize the decision to go for armed struggle, forgetting the sacrifice that generations paid and how communities, families and colleagues were touched and marked for life by this momentous decision. Last week in his message on the passing away of Comrade Mandela, the ZAPU President Comrade Dabengwa recalled that Madiba led by example; this was in reference to the latter’s decision to go for military training and to be deployed as an ANC cadre himself to face the consequences of the resort to war. His words of defiance at his Rivonia trial were part of the inspiration for young people like Dabengwa who were old enough to take up arms to do so in order to overthrow minority regimes in the region.
• During his incarceration in Robben Island and the detention of our own party President Comrade Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in Gonakudzingwa, the ZAPU and ANC Alliance launched combined operations on Zimbabwean soil in 1967 (Wankie) and 1968 (Sipolilo) against Rhodesian and South African forces. Madiba’s example and dedication served as a compass for the “victory or death” outlook for many fighters in Southern Africa.
• Tata Mandela did not believe in war for its own sake but as means to an end. He believed in liberty for all human beings and citizenry, without distinction of colour, creed, ethnicity or other accident of birth. This explains in part the universal feeling of loss even among leaders and people around the world.
• Comrade Mandela, who will always remain that for many who followed his example, believed in the power of good over evil. He stood for and will be remembered for forgiving but not forgetting evil meted to the oppressed and appreciating the liberation of both oppressed and oppressors.
• Madiba shunned greed and ostentation in public life. He lived simply after coming to power and promoted good governance.
• He retained what we might call “servant leadership”, accepting that people are the ultimate authority even when one has the towering position by which personal authority can override democracy and pluralism. He remained a member of truly collective leadership, and showed unwavering commitment to democracy in party and state.
• There are many who cynically point out that the transition to democracy in South Africa has not yet resulted in change for the majority of black South Africans. Achieving economic transformation for the majority is a great challenge in pyramidal economies crafted to benefit fewer and fewer people at the top. However, it is something to ponder that South Africa’s developed economy is still a magnet for Africans near and far from the country’s borders. Our people continue to vote with their feet as commentators suggest that change in South Africa has to come faster. That country and its first black President Comrade Nelson Mandela provides lessons and challenges at the same time.
• The peaceful transition and culture of peace in the political arena in South Africa, against the odds, is an example of how good leadership can make a difference. The wonderful Mandela tree has born good fruit. “By their fruit ye shall know them”! There can be no peaches from thorns.
• We are grateful to Tata Nelson Mandela’s family for sharing his life and humanity with us all.
Long live Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
May his Soul Rest in Peace