4 March 2014
Nelson Mandela “represented the possibility of a better human society, not only in South Africa but in the world at large,” South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told the nearly 2 000 people that filled London’s Westminster Abbey on Monday for a special service celebrating Mandela’s life.
Nelson Mandela, who passed away in December aged 95, joined a select group of non-Britons – including former Botswana President Seretse Khama, Jamaican Prime Minister Alexander Bustamente and Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies – who have been honoured by a service of thanksgiving at the 1000-year-old church where Britain crowns and buries its kings and queens.
The guests at Monday’s service included Prince Harry, representing the Queen, British Prime Minister David Cameron, former prime ministers John Major and Gordon Brown, members of the Mandela family, and actor Idris Elba, who played Mandela in the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Thanks ‘for a truly great man’
Dean of Westminster John Hall, conducting the service, reminded the guests that a thanksgiving service for South Africa was held in the Abbey 20 years ago to celebrate the country’s first democratic elections.
“At that time, all who were here, and people throughout the world, thanked God for the triumph of a spirit of reconciliation, and for peaceful transition,” Hall said. “It is hard to imagine that any of this would have been possible without the grace and generosity shown by Nelson Mandela.
“Today we join together, representing the people of South Africa, of the United Kingdom, and of the Commonwealth, to give thanks to almighty God for a truly great man.”
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in his address, thanked anti-apartheid campaigners in UK for their support during the years of apartheid rule. “Thank you to the elegant ladies who boycotted South African oranges,” said Archbishop Tutu. “Thank you to those who followed a long-haired Peter Hain [the British Labour Party politician who was a noted anti-apartheid campaigner in the 1970s].”
Hain, who also addressed the congregation, said that Mandela never forgot the tens of thousands of British citizens who supported South Africa’s struggle, adding that he would have been humbled by Monday’s service.
‘History will judge us in light of Mandela’
President Motlanthe said that Mandela had been shaped by his country’s struggle, “which shunned confrontation but held values of compassion and solidarity that went beyond simple opposition to apartheid”, and that his inheritors were now faced with the challenge of making his dream come to pass.
“Humanity must consciously strive to free political activity, democracy, and the right to differ without the prospect of imprisonment, torture and assassination,” Motlanthe said.
“The most enduring monument we can build to Mandela’s memory is to strive for human solidarity, to conquer racism and sexism, to eradicate social inequalities, educate the masses, make health accessible to all, and uphold a human rights culture.
“Posterity will look at the current generation in the light of the Mandela experience. If we fail it will not make sense to future generations that while Mandela evolved into a rugged moral force that edged humanity higher on the plane of civilisation, those who followed him either failed to live up to his philosophy or simply destroyed his dream.”
Westminster Abbey announced on Sunday that it would be honouring Mandela with a memorial ledger stone, to be unveiled later this year. Mandela was welcomed to the Abbey in July 1996 when, during a state visit as president of South Africa, he laid a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who was unable to attend Monday’s service due to work commitments, issued a statement on Sunday thanking the British government and people and the Abbey in particular for hosting the memorial service.
He said South Africa was humbled by the gesture, “which demonstrates yet again the impact of Madiba in the world.
“This service demonstrates how this global icon that is Madiba touched many lives and hearts and was able to transcend geographical boundaries in spreading messages of peace, unity and the need for a better world.”