Nelson Mandela University

Statement on death of former State President Nelson Mandela

It is with great sadness that we have learnt of the passing away of former State President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela today. His death is a massive loss not only to the Mandela family, the South African nation, but also indeed the whole of humanity. On behalf of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Council, management, staff, students and alumni of Nelson Mandela University, I wish to express our most heartfelt condolences to the Mandela family at their loss. It is a loss that we experience as intensely as our own.

Madiba, as he was affectionately known, has been with us for so long now that it is hard to think and speak of him in the past tense. He has always lived in our dreams, our hopes, and our struggles. When he was imprisoned on Robben Island during the dark days of apartheid, most of us were left to imagine how he looked as images of Madiba were withheld from the public. However, his spirit and values were alive amongst many of us, and resonated in our freedom songs. I have no doubt that his values would continue to live on.

He has left us with rich memories. Who can forget his courage as a young lawyer, when he joined forces with the late Oliver Tambo, to take up the bread and butter struggles of ordinary people? Who can ignore his later courage to lead the fight, together with others, against apartheid during the Defiance Campaign? He sacrificed the prime of his life to spend what was effectively a lifetime in jail.

Who is not touched by his closing remarks at the Rivonia trial when he said “I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”. This is his most evocative call for, and commitment to, the ideals of non-racialism, equality and justice for all.

How can we forget Madiba’s breathtaking courage, reaching from within the confines of Poolsmoor Prison during the darkest days of apartheid, and breaking the political stalemate between the apartheid state and democratic forces? Who will not remember his magnanimous spirit, against all historical precedent, in reaching out to FW De Klerk and his former tormentors in one of history’s most extraordinary acts of reconciliation?

We marveled at his steadying hand during the convulsive years following the unbanning of political movements in the early 1990’s - the spectre of state-sponsored violence, Bhisho massacre, tragic murder of Chris Hani that brought our country to the brink of civil war, and Madiba addressing the nation on television with an authority unmatched by anyone else. We still beam with pride at the memory of him being sworn in as our first democratic State President in 1994, ushering in a truly new moment in South Africa history. And we still recall his unifying gesture in embracing the Springboks during the World Rugby Cup final match of 1995.

Who cannot remember with abiding admiration Madiba’s acts of unprovoked generosity when he was at the height of his power when he visited the widow of the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, and his gestures to embrace his formers jailers?

We remember his generosity of spirit even when, with unprecedented humility, he left office, giving up the most powerful seat in the land. And we remember how he devoted his remaining years as patron of the Mandela Foundation and Mandela’s Children Foundation, and its many heroic causes.

Much of the new South Africa is a testament to his life’s work and his immense sacrifices. We will miss him. But we will also celebrate his legacy. We will also continue his dream of creating a truly non-racial, democratic South Africa.

Nelson Mandela University wishes to salute this great son of Africa, its most famous and celebrated gift to the world. Nelson Mandela University hails him for his amazing life and times. We are proud to carry his name, and we pledge to uphold and promote the core values and vision so closely associated with Madiba. His legacy today is without doubt one of the single most important historical reference points in the global struggle for a better, more equal world.

No single figure in modern history has been the repository of such widespread adoration, and a source of near universal inspiration and hope for millions of people than Nelson Mandela. He is truly a colossus, a figure whose historical significance ranks equal to the finest leaders of modern times. Whilst we have always claimed him as a son of South Africa, the African continent, and the wider world, Madiba now proudly walks onto the pantheon of history, to take his rightful place alongside the likes of Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Kwame Nkrumah and Mother Theresa. 

In reaching these heights, we know that Madiba suffered a great deal, not least in his person and his beloved family, and sacrificed much of his adult life to the noble cause of freedom. In remembering Madiba, we recall the words of the famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, ‘only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them’.

Judge Ronnie Pillay
Nelson Mandela University Chairperson of Council