JOHANNESBURG/WINDHOEK – President Hifikepunye Pohamba yesterday described former South African president Nelson Mandela as a son of the African soil, an icon of the anti-apartheid struggle and unique gift to the world whose legacy will never be forgotten.
Speaking at the Mandela memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, Pohamba who also spoke on behalf of the whole African continent said Mandela gave up his life in serving humanity. He was selfless in sacrificing his life for the dignity of others because he believed in the wealth of every human being, said Pohamba.
“He believed in one united South Africa, he chose forgiveness over retribution, reconciliation and peace, yes, Madiba was South African but to us in Namibia he was a reliable comrade in arms, a senior brother, “ said the Namibian Head of State.
Pohamba said Mandela was an inspiration to the people of Namibia in their struggle for freedom and independence but specifically to Namibian compatriots jailed with Mandela on Robben Island – “some of them who are here with us, Andimba Toivo ya Toivo who is here with us today”.
“Madiba was a fundamental symbol of human rights, freedom, peace and justice not only for the people of South Africa but humanity as a whole,” he eulogized Pohamba.
Pohamba said the most fitting tribute to Nelson Mandela is to celebrate his life and work for the fulfilment of his beliefs.
“Our brothers and sisters of South Africa with whom we shared the trenches and the common struggle against apartheid colonialism, we say let us continue to stand together in the second phase of the struggle of economic and social problems for our people guided by the principle of democracy, equality and justice,” said Pohamba.
Celebrating one of his personal heroes, U.S. President Barack Obama praised Mandela as the last great liberator of the 20th century, urging the world to carry on his legacy by fighting inequality, poverty and discrimination.
At the memorial service in Johannesburg, Obama compared Mandela to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Lincoln. He said Mandela had earned his place in history.
“For nothing he achieved was inevitable,” Obama said.
“In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, persistence and faith. He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.”
In a rain-soaked stadium where world leaders gathered to honour the anti-apartheid leader, Obama traced the influence that Mandela’s story has had on his own life, disclosing that he asks himself how well he’s applied Mandela’s lessons to himself as a man and as president.
He said in the U.S., South Africa and around the world, people must not allow progress that’s been made to cloud the fact that more work must be done.
“We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” Obama said, referring to Mandela by his traditional clan name.
Joining Obama on the 16-hour trip from Washington for the ceremony were first lady Michelle Obama, former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also attended the memorial service. As a prelude to the stadium service, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke at an event at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory on Monday night.
“What a fantastic gift God gave to us in this Mandela, who quickly became an icon, a global icon of forgiveness, of generosity of spirit,” Tutu said. “He really was like a magician with a magic wand, turning us into this glorious, multi-coloured, rainbow people,” said Tutu.
– Additional reporting Nampa/AP
By Kuzeeko Tjitemisa