South Africans can best remember former president Nelson Mandela by living the values he stood for, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille has said.
“As we move further away from the life of Nelson Mandela, it is too easy to start remembering him in familiar sound bites – to reduce the image of Madiba in our minds to a handful of quotes and pictures that have been repeated so often, as to almost become clichéd.
“We begin to replace the real values he stood for with a two-dimensional feel-good version of him that makes us feel nostalgic, but not necessarily inspired,” she said yesterday in a speech at the Cape Town City Hall.
Zille said Mandela had displayed many different sides of himself over the course of his life.
“True to his name, Rolihlala, he has been at times the trouble-maker, the revolutionary, the African nationalist, the pacifist, the pragmatist, the negotiator, the humanist, the father of a nation who never experienced the joy of raising his own biological children.”
The Mandela most frequently remembered seemed to be his role of forgiver, unifier and leader in the 1990s – but Zille said she did not want to focus on this facet of Madiba’s identity in her speech.
Rather, she chose to look at Mandela as he delivered his historic 1964 speech from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial.
“Because within the text of this seminal speech we can identify some of the values that guided him then and, three decades later, found their way into our Constitution.
“They are key to unlocking the potential of South Africa for all its people, and we must cherish and protect them with everything we have. Otherwise our talk of his legacy is nothing more than hot air.”
She identified the values of “fairness and justice, service to South Africa and its citizens, dignity, nonracialism and the overarching theme of freedom.
“He understood that freedom was just a word unless people can use it to live lives they value,” Zille said.
“And this cannot happen without opportunity. Nor can it last without the institutions of democracy, through which people can hold their leaders to account, and prevent corruption and power abuse.”
On nonracialism, Zille said racism remained a problem in South Africa but could not be confined to a particular group of people, a city or a province.
“Tragically, they exist everywhere. We unequivocally condemn any act of racism wherever it occurs, and because I am premier of the Western Cape, I particularly condemn such despicable acts that occur in this province. “Each one of them is a violation of the memory of Nelson Mandela.”
“Playing the race card” through unsubstantiated claims of racism for the purpose of diverting attention from other substantive issues was equally to be condemned, she said.
“Accusing a person of racism in South Africa, is the gravest of indictments, given the tragedy of our past.
“Although racists and race cards are still far too prevalent in our society, I have no doubt that they are vastly outnumbered by the South Africans who do indeed share the values of Nelson Mandela and wish to live up to them.”