Nelson Mandela remembered by alumni

06 December 2013 | Story by Newsroom
Prominent UCT alumni remember Nelson Mandela in their own way
Prominent UCT alumni remember Nelson Mandela in their own way

Here are their words as told to the newsroom at UCT, or published in other media earlier this year:

Pretty Yende, opera star

"He gave me the possibility to dream even bigger, allowed me the honour to spread my wings even beyond my little town of Piet Retief. [His efforts] gave birth to one proudly South African daughter who walks into any prestigious opera houses and concert venues globally, feeling comfortable in her own skin, sharing her gift in multiple languages '“ a Pretty world indeed."

Jeremy Cronin, Deputy Minister of Public Works and former lecturer at UCT

"Speaking as an UCT alumnus but also as someone who has served on the ANC National Executive Committee under the presidency of Madiba, one joins the rest of South Africa and the world in this period of bereavement but also of celebration of an outstanding and exemplary life.

"The main point I would like to make is that, in a lot of the public comments, Mandela is being remembered as a great reconciler, and he was that, and he played a critical role [in the negotiation] but he never imagined that reconciliation ended the challenges and the problems. In many respects the struggle that he fought continues, obviously in new forms now in this new South Africa.

"Millions of South Africans remain imprisoned in the sense of being trapped in poverty, trapped in unemployment and trapped in huge inequalities. So I think that how to remember Mandela would be to continue a struggle against the realities that continue to reproduce these big challenges in our country."

Geoff Budlender, alumnus and former Chair of Council

"When I was Director-General of the Department of Land Affairs, what struck me was Madiba's openness to ideas, and willingness to accept that he could be wrong. He would announce with a smile that he had made a mistake (which in that instance was indeed the case), and that he needed assistance in putting it right. When asked for advice, he would give it, and then say: 'But I may be wrong - and if you don't tell me that, who will?'. And when he had been lobbied by private interests on a departmental policy which had just been announced, he would say: 'I don't know whether you have considered this aspect - if not, please do consider it, then make your own decision, and I will back the decision which you make'.

"He had the confidence of the leader who has a strong sense of self, and who is secure in himself. This was not an arrogant self-confidence, or sensitivity to criticism. It was exactly the opposite. While he was never hesitant to lead, he recognised the limits of his own knowledge. He welcomed the advice and opinions of those around him, because he knew that this would enable him to make better decisions.

"In other words, for Madiba inclusiveness was not just a political slogan, it was a way to live and to lead."

Writing in The Times, 27 June, 2013, law alumni Professor Hugh Corder and Sir Jeffrey Jowell shared memories of Mandela as a lawyer.

"Mandela's legacy as a lawyer is probably most acutely characterised in two incidents, some 30 years apart. In his trial in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court in late 1962, he was accused of inciting others to strike, and of leaving the country without a valid passport. Although represented by counsel, he conducted his own defence. Before pleading to the charges, he applied for the recusal of the presiding magistrate not, as he repeatedly stressed, on personal grounds, but because 'I fear that I will not be given a fair and proper trial' [and because] I consider myself neither legally nor morally bound to obey laws made by a Parliament in which I have no representation'.

"His first argument rested on the argument that it was both improper and against the 'elementary principles of justice to entrust whites with cases involving the denial by them of basic human rights to the African people'. The second argument echoes many of the points made in the famous Hart-Fuller debate about the inner morality of law, and the necessity for fidelity to law, a few years before, eternal questions which demand the attention of all lawyers who participate in a fundamentally unjust regime wherever it may be.

"His second enduring legacy stems from his conduct as the first President of a free South Africa in the mid-90s.One cannot underestimate the extent to which the legitimacy of the hard-fought constitutional compromise was threatened from all quarters during his presidency, and its survival required resolute, inspired and committed political leadership. President Mandela displayed such commitment throughout, but two very prominent public displays stand out. First, he warmly welcomed the unanimous and firm decision of the Constitutional Court in outlawing the death penalty in its first judgment, thus showing implicit acceptance of the counter-majoritarian role sometimes forced on a court, in pursuit of the higher goal of the supremacy of the Constitution.

"Secondly, in its first year of operation the same court found Parliament and the President to have acted unconstitutionally, and upheld the challenge of the party representing the interests of those who had devised and enforced apartheid. Despite his disenchantment, the President immediately issued a statement through the public media, accepting the decision.

"These vital acts served to reinforce one of the critical building blocks of the Constitution, the rule of law and constitutional supremacy, which have served South Africa well. Even though current political leadership shows little understanding of the importance of such values, they are securely in place. Mandela the lawyer would have been well pleased."

Writing in the Sunday Times on the eve of Mandela's 95th birthday in July,
alumnus Nicholas 'Fink' Haysom, talks about Mandela's uniqueness. (Haysom was legal advisor to Mandela during his presidency and now serves as the deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan.)

"Like many other South Africans, I have recently been considering the vast debt that South Africa '”and the world '” owes to Nelson Mandela. Here in Kabul, Afghanistan, where I am now based, his health is closely followed. I am frequently asked with real concern about his recovery by international diplomats, politicians and ordinary Afghans. It is a reminder that Madiba holds a special place in the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

"I have also been thinking about Madiba because war-torn Afghanistan is preparing for a presidential election, its first democratic transfer of power. There has been intense debate regarding the attributes of a candidate capable of leading this divided country through its transition. More than a few Afghans have confided that 'our problem is we have no Mandela'. This has been a common lament in other conflict-afflicted countries in which I have worked '” Sudan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Burundi. They mean that they lack a leader who is bigger than the divisions that have torn their communities apart. They need a 'Mandela' uniquely capable of speaking for those that demand change and simultaneously addressing those that fear it.

"This has brought home to me a real appreciation of the national asset that Mandela constitutes. His varied and lifelong contribution to the emancipation of South Africa from apartheid is well recorded. His transformation from political prisoner to the country's first democratically elected leader is remarkable. What is extraordinary is that he has become our universally beloved national icon, a condition for healing our bitter divisions and even, perhaps, a collective father figure. Although he certainly left his mark on the stage of international politics, his universally acclaimed stature derives from his inspirational role as the political leader in South Africa who endured27 years of imprisonment and emerged without rancour to become its first democratically elected president."

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