Address given at a Service to Celebrate the Life and Work of Nelson Mandela
3 March 2014 at 12:00 pm
The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town
In die naam van die Vader, en die Seun en die Heilige Gees.
May I first thank the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey and the Prime Minister and his Government for organising this memorial service.
I come from a country which only a few years ago, a little over twenty years sported signs reading “Drive carefully Natives cross here”. We were the natives. People such as Ahmad Kathrada who spent over 2 decades on Robben Island relates how they delighted in changing the signs so they read “Drive carefully - Natives very cross here”. Nelson Mandela and others were appalled by a system spawning such signs, which treated black people as if they were scum and organised the black community and its allies to resist such a demeaning, dehumanising system which regarded as but cheap hewers of wood and drawers of water, who treated their dogs far better than they treated us. After all they were not ashamed to put up public notices that read “Natives and dogs not allowed”. Mandela was appalled by this and he and his colleagues resisted this vicious system. And it was for this noble resistance that he and many others were incarcerated for life.
What would have happened had Mandela died in prison as was the intended hope of the upholders of apartheid? I suppose most would have regarded him as no better than a terrorist. Persons in high positions in Britain and the US did dismiss him as such. Mercifully for us and Gods’ world, Mandela did not die in prison and this is thanks very largely to the amazing Anti-Apartheid movement led by that remarkable Englishman Archbishop Trevor Huddleston. I use this great pulpit to say on behalf of our people, Thank you, thank you, thank you. To those splendid young people, they were young then those students but of course not exclusively so who changed the moral climate that made it possible for the United States Congress to pass the anti-apartheid legislation with a presidential veto override against the wishes of a hugely popular President Reagan. I visited 10 Downing Street and the Oval Office in Washington. My pleas for sanctions fell on deaf ears. Without the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela would so easily have died in prison. Wonderfully, exhilaratingly the entire world glued to its TV set whilst this man emerged after 27 years of incarceration and erupted with a collective exhilaration to be matched only with the joy at his victory as the first democratically elected President in 1994. The world held its breath fearing that the victory of the ANC would see SA overwhelmed by the racial bloodbath so many had predicted. It didn’t happen. Instead the world was mesmerised by the proceedings of the TRC - Instead of retribution and revenge which everybody expected, the world saw black and white South Africans walking the path of forgiveness and reconciliation. It was because he who spent 27 years in jail came out transformed from the angry militant to the magnanimous leader who believed we each had the capacity to be great, to be magnanimous, to be forgiving, and to be generous. We cannot give up on anyone. He might not have put it like that, but basically he was saying one is a hopeless case, with a 1st class ticket to hell. We all have the capacity to be saints. The veneration that we saw worldwide at his death is because he made us believe that we are made for goodness, for caring, for loving, for compassion, for laughter, for peace such as the Agnus Dei proclaims.
Thank you God for this your child, Nelson Mandela, who has shown us what we can be.