Press release: Saying farewell to a legend

It is difficult to come to terms with the news that the world’s most revered statesman and human rights activist is gone.  As is so often said, he now belongs to the ages.

Although an old man, he seemed immortal. But Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a man, a man whose dedication to the struggle against Apartheid and injustice, and opposition to oppression moulded him into a beacon and a symbol for human rights movements across the world. A man that made a conscious decision to change what he saw was wrong and unjust.

There seems to be a sense of personal loss for each of us. He had become the father of our democratic nation and it is this that we have lost. Such is how the man, Madiba, was engrained in each of us.

In coming weeks every South African will have to come to terms with the fact that this giant of a man – with his warm smile and soft eyes – has left it up to us to continue his legacy.

As the world mourns the loss, civil society has also begun to reflect on his role in laying the foundations for our democracy.

Mandela’s illustrious legacy is what keeps civil society’s eye so keenly focused on human rights in South Africa and across the continent and abroad. While we can’t say we’ve accomplished everything he set out to achieve, we can certainly say that we are on the right track despite the numerous obstacles we face.

His commitment in breaking the confines of the racist Apartheid system has become an inspiration for a new generation to mobilise against injustice and inequality. He cemented this role by leading the ANC in constitutional negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) - leading to our Constitution and Bill of Rights (arguably the most progressive and comprehensive in the world), which many, including Lawyers for Human Rights have relied to secure justice and to improve the lives of the impoverished, neglected and abused.

Despite a divided past, his first term leading the new democracy over 19 years ago was marked by its emphasis on unity and reconciliation.

During Mandela’s tenure as our nation’s first president, he often demonstrated his deference to other arms of government (the judiciary and legislature). Through this, he set an important foundation for future administrations to follow in respecting the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Nelson Mandela is an important role model for all of us at Lawyers for Human Rights. In our 35-year history, LHR has shared many of his ideals and aspirations in upholding the rule of law and fighting for justice – championing the equal rights of those who don’t have a voice to fight themselves.

During his four and a half hour-long speech at the Rivonia Trial in 1964, Mandela made one of his most widely used quotes: “I have fought against black domination and I have fought against white 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”. Never has this statements been so relevant than it is today.

While the legend may have moved on, his spirit remains with us. It is up to all of us not to give up on the ideals he always fought to fulfil. It is up to all of us to take these ideals even further.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Hamba kahle Madiba.