Mbeki: Mandela belongs to us all

2013-12-09 11:49

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Former President Nelson Mandela belongs to no political party; he belongs to all the people of South Africa.

This, according to President Thabo Mbeki in an interview at his home in Killarney, Johannesburg.

A visibly distressed Mbeki said Mandela and his generation of ANC leaders “stood for ideals, not to promote a political party, but to create a South Africa that would work for the benefit of all South Africans”.

Mandela died at his home in Houghton on Thursday after a long illness.

Mbeki was Mandela’s deputy president from 1994 to 1999 before he became president.

He told Beeld how he was busy writing at his desk when he received the bad news.

“It was a disturbing experience. Logically it should not have been, because for the last few months it was clear Madiba’s health was deteriorating.

“But when the moment came, it was unsettling. I had to stop writing. I could not do any more. I walked up and down the corridor.

“It is correct for people to say we should celebrate Mandela’s life. I agree. But I think we should also say we must not only celebrate the past; what about the future?

“These things that Mandela stood for – what did he want? What was the struggle about? How far have we come and where should we be? And what are we doing about it?”

Mbeki said the Constitution reflected what Mandela had fought for.

“So why don’t we say as a nation, ‘There is a document that does not belong to any political party. It is our national covenant. We all agreed to it. Let’s look at it and ask how far we’ve come."

During the interview, Mbeki often referred to his first meeting with Mandela when he was 19 years old.

“The reason for those meetings was that he wanted to know how we as young people would react to the decisions that they had made.”

Mbeki recalls how Mandela told a group of young ANC leaders at the beginning of 1962 they must study if they wanted to govern a country one day.

“He said, ‘One day we will be free, but we will need properly qualified people to govern. So it is your job to study. We will continue the struggle, but studying is another form of struggle.’ ”

Mbeki said it was Madiba’s idea that he (Mandela) should see to the reconciliation in the country, while he (Mbeki) ran the government.

“He was very worried that things would go wrong. It was important that he should be among the people. That’s why he visited (Hendrik Verwoerd’s widow) Betsie Verwoerd.

“He wanted to find out if there were Afrikaners who were angry about the change. He wanted to tell them they had nothing to fear. There was nobody more symbolic (than Verwoerd) to visit for reconciliation.”

Mandela’s most important lesson, Mbeki said, is that leaders must be loyal to their principles and not only preach, but practise what they preach.

The New York Times reported this weekend that Mandela said in 2007 in a so far unpublished interview that the ANC always made decisions as a collective, but Mbeki wanted to make decisions himself.

“We never liked that,” Mandela said at the time.

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