independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Madiba turned SA from poisonous caterpillar to lovely butterfly -- Tutu

A young girl kisses a statue of Nelson Mandela before a service conducted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
A young girl kisses a statue of Nelson Mandela before a service conducted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Nelson Mandela spent his first night of freedom at the home of Desmond Tutu. He had not wanted to stay at Bishopscourt, he recalled later, because the affluent suburb was "not an area where I would have been permitted to leave before I went to prison. I thought it would have sent the wrong signal to spend my first night in a posh white area."

But things had changed in the 27 years that Mandela had spent incarcerated. In 1990, Bishopscourt was still posh, but it also had non-white residents, at the insistence of the first black Archbishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa, the Nobel Prize winner who had earned great respect for his non-violent campaign against apartheid.

Last night, Archbishop Tutu presided over a remembrance ceremony for his house guest that night 23 years ago which was anything but maudlin, with jokes and waves of laughter.

Steadfast supporters in the fight against apartheid, including the singer Peter Gabriel and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, were resoundingly cheered.

"Madiba," said the archbishop, was "a magician who had turned South Africa (from) a poisonous caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly".

He described the brutality Mandela had endured in prison leaving him with damaged lungs and eyesight. "But he came out of prison to set us free from hatred and racism. The world expected a bloodbath and atrocities, what we now have, instead, is this wonderful multicultural rainbow," he said.

There was a slight pause in the reaction of the audience when the archbishop declared that Winnie Mandela, too, should be praised for the support she had given her former husband during the long years of struggle.

The archbishop claimed that he had forced Mandela "to make an honest woman" of his last wife, Graca Machel. "I told him you are setting a bad example. You should not be shacked up, marry her."

If Mr Mandela was the leading political force in the campaign for emancipation, Archbishop Tutu provided the moral compass, passionately declaring that segregation and discrimination were against God's will, helping to galvanise swathes of religious opinion across the world against the racist regime.

Mandela had stressed how much he valued the archbishop's friendship, describing him as "sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour". The feeling was reciprocated, but the cleric was not uncritical, speaking out over the years against senior figures in the ANC, some of them close allies of Mandela.

Mandela himself must not be adored on a pedestal, the cleric stressed: "One has to be careful that we don't (get) hagiographic. Because one of the wonderful things about him is that he is so human."

He said Mandela was not without failings: "His chief weakness was his steadfast loyalty to his organisation and to his colleagues.

"He retained in his cabinet underperforming, frankly incompetent ministers who should have been dismissed. This tolerance of mediocrity arguably laid the seeds for greater levels of mediocrity and corruptibility."

The memorial service for Mr Mandela takes place today and is poised to be one of the largest such gatherings in history with tens of thousands of local mourners and almost 100 foreign leaders, including President Micheal D Higgins, attending.

ENEMY

The archbishop pointed out that it was the example of Mr Mandela's magnanimity that helped shape his own actions.

"He lived out the understanding that an enemy is a friend waiting to be made, and so could have his white former jailer attend his presidential inauguration as a VIP guest; and have Dr Percy Yutar, who was the prosecutor in the Rivonia trial when he was sentenced to life imprisonment, the Dr Yutar who had wanted the death sentence, come to lunch with him at the presidency.

"The former terrorist could have those who used to think of him as Public Enemy No 1 eating out of his hand." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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