It is with deep sadness and regret that Rhodes University staff members and students cope with the passing of our beloved alumnus and former president, Tatamkhulu Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, after a long battle with a recurring lung infection. Dr Mandela was 95 years-old. We mourn and lower our flags on the passing of Madiba. We knew that he would eventually leave us, but his passing still fills us with great sorrow. Few people in our time have symbolised the spirit of freedom and courage so well as this figure of monumental integrity and humanity.
Rhodes University extends its deepest condolences to our alumnus Graca Machel, and the children, grandchildren and extended family and comrades of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela on their sad loss. Their loss is also the loss of the entire South African people and freedom-loving people around the world. Former President Mandela is an alumnus of Rhodes University, through the award on 6 April 2002 of an honorary Doctorate. Rhodes was also blessed with Mandela's approval of the Nelson Mandela Chair in Politics, which today is awarded to outstanding visiting professors. Another honour was the naming in 2006 of a Hall of four student residences the Nelson Mandela Hall.
He inspired many around the world including our own students and alumni through his principled leadership, humility and his unwavering commitment to social justice and reconciliation. The students of the Nelson Mandela Hall, 'inspired by the values personified by Nelson Mandela', and acknowledging the challenges facing them 'as a diverse community with varying backgrounds, cultures and histories', strive to work together 'to build a community of fellowship and equality based on the principles of non-racism, non-sexism and democracy. By 'striving to live up to the legacy of Nelson Mandela', they seek 'to fulfil the Rhodes University maxim Where leaders learn'.
Madiba was dearly loved by many and will be greatly missed. South Africa and Africa have been blessed to have had a leader of Mandela's calibre. He preached equality, peace and democracy during both the dark days of apartheid and also after democracy in 1994. Vice-Chancellor, Dr Saleem Badat says that "rarely in history will we observe the extent and kind of grief that we are likely see for Tatamkhulu Mandela”. But then giants like Madiba are all too rare: famous political prisoner, number 46664; irrepressible freedom fighter; revered political leader; Nobel prize winner; first president of free South Africa; statesperson; social activist; alumnus of scores of universities; champion of learning and education and humanitarian. And few individuals have touched and inspired as many people as has Madiba," says Dr Badat.
Madiba spent a few days at Rhodes in 2007, accompanying his wife Graca Machel when she received an honorary doctorate from the University. His last visit was in 2009, when he attended his grandson's graduation ceremony. He encouraged Rhodes to continue connecting respectfully with local communities and the Eastern Cape. Dr Badat notes that on becoming president in 1994, Madiba commented: 'We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.' He says Madiba's call on us was: 'Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.' That 'never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.'
In Long Walk to Freedom Madiba wrote: 'The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning'. He added that 'I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended'. We can only draw inspiration from Madiba, who provided selfless leadership and paved the path to our democracy. He believed, as our Distinguished Professor Paul Maylam has noted, in the 'innate worth and dignity of all human beings'. He had 'an unwavering commitment to democracy and human rights,' and was possessed of a 'generosity of spirit,' an 'egalitarian spirit,' and 'a sense of obligation to further the common good'.
He had the courage to challenge the status quo and the passion to pursue change; was committed to service and knew that leading meant doing what was right rather than what might be popular among followers. A humble, down to earth man, but fallible. As he said: 'I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying'. According to Dr Badat, our greatest tribute to Madiba will be to 'act together as a united people for the birth of a new world'; to ensure 'justice for all'; 'peace for all'; 'work, bread, water and salt for all'. Realising Madiba's urging for us to 'live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others' should be our enduring monument to him, our most famous and outstanding alumnus.
The University and South African flags at Rhodes will fly at half-mast until after Madiba is laid to rest. Hamba kakuhle Dlomo, Sopitsho, Ngqolomsila, ugqatso lwakho ulifezile (Go well Madiba, you have done your bit).
By Dr Saleem Badat