Mary Robinson says we are bereft because Mandela was the best of us
Former president says Mandela led a Rainbow Nation into democratic freedom with moral authority
Mary Robinson: “We feel Mandela’s loss today as if he was a family member”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Elder, said yesterday that “the sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next. It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on” when speaking about the passing of Nelson Mandela, Madiba.
I have to agree. These days are sad, but we will emerge inspired to walk on in the footsteps of Madiba, with a renewed sense of determination, towards freedom from oppression and injustice.
In 1994 I had the honour, as President of Ireland, of representing this country at the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president of the Republic of South Africa, and it was an extraordinary occasion.
I remember walking through a pathway to a lunch after the ceremony where we were greeted by a group of young people, black, white and coloured, standing together, singing and dancing. That was a very moving sight particularly as there had been fighting not long before the election.
This man, who had suffered so much persecution, shaped the values of his country, determined to forgive.
He led a Rainbow Nation out of strife and into democratic freedom with moral authority. He forgave his persecutors to not only free himself but to free the future generations of his nation.
When I was appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights I wanted to mark the start of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, December 10th, 1997, somewhere very special, so I contacted Mandela, and he agreed to launch the year in South Africa.
During that visit, as I stood beside him at the ceremony, he said to me “Mary, you know there was a time when they called me a terrorist!”.
Of course he had once taken up arms, but he also learned in prison that we must reconcile and listen to truly achieve freedom. He said “I have learned that what you have to do is reconcile, and shake the hand of those who are on the other side”.
There is no doubt but he was an inspirational man with strong moral values but he was actually very humble. He used humour to ensure people did not put him on a pedestal. He had a wonderful relationship with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, about whom he would say: “This man will be helping me when I meet St Peter, he will get me into heaven because he’s praying for me.”
It gives me hope, not only for South Africa but for the rest of the world, that young people everywhere, even if they didn’t have the privilege and honour of meeting him, are inspired by him.
I think his greatest legacy will be if South Africa can be re-energised by his values, and complete the Rainbow Nation process and, indeed, remember the emphasis he placed on the inclusive nature of that Rainbow Nation.
But we need to do this not only in South Africa, but throughout the world, because the divisions and inequalities in our world are growing.
We feel Mandela’s loss today as if he was a family member. Why are we so bereft? It’s because he was the best of us. He was the best of our values.
Mary Robinson is president of the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice and a member of The Elders.