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A tribute to the life of Mandela from South Africa

Tuesday, 10 December, 2013

Today, the memorial service of Nelson Mandela is being held at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mandela’s closest confidants, global leaders and other well-known figures are in attendance, alongside an expected 80,000 members of the public, coming to pay their respects and, above all, celebrate an extraordinary life.

As a tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela, Tony Schnell, from our partner organisation based in South Africa, the Diocese of Grahamstown’s Department of Social Responsibility (DSR), has offered some commemorative words:

In SA [South Africa], Mandela was often called Tata, which is the colloquial for “Daddy” and this is what he was to most of us. As such he provided containment for the citizens of all colours and social status: the containment that a good father will provide to a family even if things are tough. For the most part people knew that if Mandela was around, in some way justice would prevail. Probably during the time of his office as president of SA, the AIDS pandemic was not sophisticated and it was riddled with myths and denial, coupled with strong stigma. It was not his knowledge of AIDS that gave us hope. It was his humanity and his fatherhood of our nation that inspired people to take up the challenge. Many people used his name to rally around the cause and he gave his support to this.

DSR has long maintained that a strong community is the best prevention against HIV sero-infection that is available, because the respect within the social fabric is the real driver of prevention behaviour and care. Mandela was and is known amongst us as the father of the nation. He had an iron determination to bring people together in reconciliation so that we could rebuild our country. This meant going out of his way to meet his enemies as a whole person challenging them to a human response. This is the only way we will avert HIV and AIDS, and to do it we have to find again within our nation’s fabric that “the ability to (respect and) love comes easier to the human heart than the ability to hate”. As we internalize these words of his, we face a leadership gap. Value-based leadership is needed. At the present, our nation is remembering the sense of value-based human victory, a kind of tearful rejoicing if you like. Underneath this soft glow, reminiscent of Madiba’s famous smile, we are murmuring: “What now tata?”.

We are in a country where the anger and hatred levels are frightening, and the AIDS pandemic is a struggle for the victory of humanity and we miss the father of our nation and we are renewing our resolve to take hands to find community and reconciliation so that our children may not die of AIDS. We miss Mandela. It is a long road to freedom. We are moving forward. Amandla! Ngawethu! (Power! Is ours together!)

The DSR is a community-based organisation working in Eastern Cape, one of the regions most affected by the HIV and AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Mandela was originally from the Eastern Cape, and lead the struggle in curbing the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Africa. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS stated: “Nelson Mandela was a central figure in the AIDS movement. He was instrumental in laying the foundations of the modern AIDS response. His actions helped save millions of lives and transformed health in Africa. He broke the conspiracy of silence and gave hope that all people should live with dignity.”

His tireless fight for access to treatment, and ensuring the human rights of people living with HIV and AIDS, was also a personal one. In 2005, he announced that his son had died of AIDS-related causes. This personal disclosure brought HIV and AIDS into the limelight, and helped break down many of the preconceived notions about people living with HIV. His legacy is formidable; his passion, infectious. He is a hero who will be sorely missed by the many thousands of people around the world who have been touched by his story. Our heart goes out to his family, and to all of South Africa during this time. We must keep his legacy alive by coming together to respond to HIV and AIDS around the world, ensuring that no one is left behind.