People’s voices – The Madiba we knew

People’s voices –  The Madiba we knew
  • PublishedJuly 1, 2018

People’s voices: 

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Former wife (late)

After the prison trial ended, Madiba said he would be back after a week. That week was to last for 27 years.

He was loving, fond of children, a people person and a very hard worker. His fearlessness, his unassailable morality, his unwavering commitment to the struggle for total freedom and his insistence on marching to his own beat were the hallmarks of his character.

Yet he also had the ability to take on adversaries and win them over, and to take complex issues and bring them down to earth.

And he was no angel, like most human beings. He never claimed to be a saint.

(From her 2010 speech at Wits University marking the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release)


Ahmed Kathrada, Fellow Robben Island prisoner (late)

In spite of such suffering and humiliation [Madiba] you never showed any signs of lessening your concern for the welfare of your fellow prisoners: your empathy and compassion were a wellspring to all. This calibre of leadership defined what you and your colleagues brought to negotiations with apartheid leaders, which were entered into with the forward-looking spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and nation-building. Once more, you placed the greater good above all else.

You never deviated from the principles that we were expected to uphold in the period of adversity. It is that which enabled us to weather the most trying times in prison, and emerge unshaken. The prisoners upheld your example of refusing to ask for preferential treatment, except for health reasons.

(Tribute after Mandela’s death)


Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

The most fitting memorial to Mandela is to make a success of what he helped to establish. He was clear that, ultimately, no one is indispensable. He was a great one for stressing that he was a loyal member of the ANC, and that no one was bigger than the movement. But, of course, we know better. Anyone, anywhere in the world, who gets to be a leader knows that here is the benchmark. And they must ask themselves: how do I measure up?

(Source: The Guardian, UK)


Mac Maharaj, Fellow Robben Island prisoner

I remember…our prison days when Madiba advised me to learn to exercise self-control and put a dampener on my temper. I was continually getting into hot water with the Robben Island authorities. He urged me, ‘Pause. Make sure your retorts to the warders are carefully worded. Cut to the quick like a scalpel. Don’t just blunder your way by using abusive words that they will use against you. Count to ten. If needs be, pretend you are angry. Control your anger. Don’t let anger control your conduct and words.’ It helped me steer through many difficult moments. It still does, though now I am never certain when I am simulating anger and when I am truly consumed with fury.

I remember how he enabled me to understand that leadership is more about how you conduct yourself than about the rhythm and rhyme of mesmerising words.

(*Source: ‘I Remember Nelson Mandela’)


Jason Tshabalala

Former head of Mandela’s Protection Unit

I remember after the Boipatong Massacre we went to the Vaal and from there we went to the Sharpeville Stadium where there was a rally. People were justifiably angry and it was very tense in the stadium. Madiba was trying to calm the people and they started singing, ‘We want weapons. We want firearms.’

I remember that in the midst of that anger Madiba said, ‘We mustn’t behave like the apartheid government. The ANC has suspended the armed struggle and we have to ensure that we don’t carry out revenge attacks.’ He was able to encourage the people to focus and be calm to ensure the continuation of the negotiations to end white minority rule.

(* Source: ‘I Remember Nelson Mandela’)


* ‘I Remember Nelson Mandela’, edited by Vimla Naidoo & Sahm Venter –
Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation 2018.

Written By
Regina Jane Jere

reGina Jane Jere is a Zambian-born London-based journalist and founding Editor of the New African Woman magazine the sister-publication of the New African magazine of which she was the Deputy Editor for over a decade. The mother of two juggles a wide-range of editorial and managerial duties, but she has particular passion on women’s health, education, rights and empowerment. She is also a former Zambian correspondent for Agence France Presse, and a former Africa Researcher at Index on Censorship. She writes extensively on a wide range of issues, from politics to women’s rights, media and free speech to beauty and fashion.

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