Dear Madiba, your pictures used to be anathema and could not be printed in a country that you later led. And though most youth of the time had never seen you, they knew you. The government of the day said your name was taboo and dangerous, so did many of the terror-stricken parents. But a combination of childish curiosity and stubborn defiance led some youth South Africans to sing and call your name at the slightest provocation. The government had aimed to wipe you out of their minds, instead your place was secure in their hearts. Your shadow was edged in our (not only South Africans but also Africans and peace loving people all over the world) very souls.
I have heard of your royal poise and iron determination as you delivered that famous Treason Trial speech. Many remember how you ended that speech — by referring to your cherished ideal of a democratic and free society. I know those words off by heart. But it is the first sentence of that speech that leaves me in utter awe of your leadership. I am the first accused, you said. That is what the state prosecutors called you. But you assumed the “mantle” of “first accused” with bravery and proceeded to redefine it to the judge. You were the first but not the only accused. Clarence Makwetu, Onkgopotse Tiro, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe, Tsietsi Mashinini and many others were also accused.
Your accused status was both real and symbolic. You “stepped forward” to become the first accused for a people wrongly accused. Wrongly accused of inferiority, of backwardness, of the inability to live together — a people wrongly condemned to “separate development”. What shall we give you for your 95th birthday, dear Tata?
You have been exemplary in leadership — inclusive, consultative, impartial and decisive. As a leader you have known when to push and when to pull, when to assume and when to retire. Before 1964 you led as the times demanded but did so without disrespect for life and principle. All former Robben Island inmates speak of your leadership and mentorship in prison. In the transition period between 1990 and 1994 you were presidential without acting desperate for the position. When you did assume the presidency, your presidency was not perfect.
You have continued to provide leadership after the end of your term as president. I know what we shall give you Tata. We shall give you a continent that oozes the ideal you cherished, the ideal for which you have lived for 95 years now — the ideal of freedom for all. Not freedom for the rich or freedom for the politically connected. Not freedom for comrades alone. Not freedom for whites and not freedom for blacks. Not freedom for men and not freedom for women. Freedom for all!
For we know now that — as Jonas Gwangwa has sung it to us — freedom for some is freedom for none. We want to give you a democratic continent. For your name and in your honour, each one of us will become freedom ambassadors, freedom foot soldiers and freedom defenders. We shall teach it in our schools, practice it in the workplace, defend it in parliament, advocate it in our courts and nurture it in our own homes. We shall give you a future, a future for the children you love so much. We shall do this by building a country in which children will thrive and grow. We shall strive to build an education system that is open and accessible, an education system that harnesses their talent and turns them into able, responsible and ethical citizens of the world. But such a future will only be possible in a world that is sustainable — the best and perhaps the only real heritage we can leave for future generations.
You have given so much to us and to the world. The UN is correct to name July 18th International Mandela Day. Such is your stature in the world. May you enjoy your 95th year dear Tata. We all join hands and hearts in saying “Happy Birthday Madiba!”