One of the biggest international news stories of 2013 was the passing of Nelson Mandela. The former South African leader was honoured last month when a large number of people gathered at the Manitoba Legislature on December 14, 2013.
Mourners came from all parts of Manitoba to pay tribute to South Africa’s well-loved leader, Nelson Mandela, who died December 5, 2013 at the age of 95 in Houghton Estate, South Africa.
Mandela, or Madiba as he was affectionately and respectfully called by his Xhosa clan name, was the former president of South Africa, a political prisoner for more than a quarter century, and the 1993 co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded together with then-president F.W. De Klerk.
The memorial ceremony began with the singing of the South African national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”, followed by opening remarks that welcomed everyone (in particular, current and former MLA’s) to this event that would honour and extol Mandela’s values and legacies.
The floor was then given to Strini Reddy, a long-time community activist and educator who hosted the event and welcomed everyone by expressing delight in the huge turnout.
“Nelson Mandela is a man who truly believed in equality, democracy, and respect for all human beings,” said Reddy, who had the opportunity to meet Mandela in South Africa in 1991. During their brief encounter, Reddy described Mandela as “…gracious, humble and caring…”
“He made you feel that you were an important person,” Reddy said. He further added that Mandela was grateful for all the Canadian support in the anti-apartheid struggle.
The next speaker was Justice Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Justice Sinclair spoke about Mandela’s influence in the community, in particular with Anishnaabe people. He also commended the late Mandela on how he valued the process of reconciliation in all of his works.
Former refugee and activist, Lindelwa Guma, also spoke. Ms. Guma, who was involved with the African National Congress’ anti-apartheid drive in Winnipeg, spoke of how she helped spread the word of Mandela’s hope for South Africa to be a free state for white and non-whites alike. It was a message relayed around Winnipeg in different places and establishments, from schools and labour unions to churches and community centres, where the cause was warmly and respectfully received.
An audio-visual presentation honouring Mandela’s life and times was also shown.
Hugo Torres then performed a song extolling the greatness of Mandela, called “Free Mandela”, and a part of a poem written by award-winning South African poet Mbali Vilakazi entitled, “The Black Pimpernel”, was read by Reddy.
After that, an open mic provided the opportunity for tributes to continue from different people throughout the Legislature, who cited various reasons for the importance of Mandela’s life to their own lives.
Lindi Kuma, an apartheid survivor, said that the courage, humility, and love for freedom, as well as the way that Mandela spearheaded reconciliation in South Africa by peaceful means, impacted her the most.
A man named Harold who was also involved with the anti-Apartheid movement here in Canada, said that Mandela impacted him deeply through his courage, and to the extent that he even named his son, Nelson.
Frank Indu said that Mandela’s legacy encouraged him to help the less fortunate by volunteering in his community.
Nelinie Reddy said Mandela was “…unique through his steadfast commitment to his ideal, and he did not hold a grudge to anyone when he was released from prison.”
The event concluded with words from Social Planning Council Executive Director, Dennis Lewicki, who shared his unforgettable experience of visiting Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in the summer of 1990.
Throughout the entire program, a choir sang a variety of songs, including one entitled, “Montana”. A YouTube video presentation of Johnny Clegg singing ”Asimbonanga”, wrapped up the memorial service.
Nelson Mandela was born to parents Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandelon of the Madiba clan on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, South Africa, as Rolihlahla Mandela. He was given the Christian name “Nelson” by his primary school teacher, in compliance with the custom of giving all school children “Christian” names.
He finished his Bachelor of Arts through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943, where he was expelled due to his being part of a student protest.
A year later, he joined the African National Congress, or ANC, in 1944. He became a lawyer soon after that in 1952, obtaining a 2-year Diploma in Law, and opened the country’s first black law firm with Oliver Tambo.
Mandela was arrested in December 1955, following a countryside police sweep, and was later acquitted in 1961 together with 27 others. He was again arrested on August 5, 1962 and along with seven others, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 following the 1963 Rivona Trial.
After spending nearly three decades in jail, he was released in early 1990, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with former South African President De Klerk.
Months later, Mandela was elected as President of South Africa during the first multi-racial elections held after apartheid was abolished. He remained president until his term expired in 1999, when he stepped down, fulfilling his election promise of serving just one term.
Nelson Mandela was buried in Qunu, South Aftrica, on December 15, 2013. He was 95-years-old.