It’s hard to put together the words to commemorate the life and actions of a man who changed the world like Nelson Mandela did. So we’d like to use the words of one of his oldest friends, Ahmed Kathrada, who was tried with and served 26 years in prison with Mandela as a consequence of their fight against apartheid. The following tribute, written by Kathrada, originally appeared in the Daily Maverick.
Madala, as you light-heartedly started calling me some years ago, it both grieves me and inspires me to write this to you now, with the hour of your death still a fresh wound in our peoples’ hearts.
We have known each other for 67 years, and I never imagined I’d be witness to the unavoidable and traumatic reality of your passing.
Your abundant reserves of love, simplicity, honesty, service, humility, care, courage, foresight, patience, tolerance, equality and justice continually served as a source of enormous strength to me and so many millions of people around the world.
Your smile, which lingers still, was always from the heart, never forced, and the great joy you took in the world around you, especially in children, was unmistakable. Most of all, you symbolise, and always will, collective leadership, reconciliation, unity, forgiveness, nation-building and a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.
Your self-confidence and absence of pettiness stands out still and is epitomised in your attitude towards opposition parties; they are not enemies but political rivals.
I had the enviable privilege of being alive and walking the earth with you through the bad times and the good. It has been a long walk, with many challenges that at times seemed insurmountable. And yet we never faltered, and the strength of leaders like you and Walter always shone a light on the path and kept our destination and our people’s future in view.
I feel bereft and lonely. To whom do I turn for solace, comfort, and advice?
While we may be drowned in sorrow and grief, we must be proud and grateful that after the long walk paved with obstacles and suffering, we salute you as a fighter for freedom to the end.
Farewell my elder brother, my mentor, my leader. With all the energy and determination at our command, we pledge to join the people of South Africa and the world to perpetuate the ideals and values for which you have devoted your life.
Ahmed Kathrada’s memoir of his life and work against apartheid at the side of his friend, Nelson Mandela, is published by the University Press of Kentucky.