New Year gift from Nelson Mandela


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Category: Profiles Date: 31 Dec 98

‘Let us cherish our gifts of creativity and tolerance, denied to so many countries, and put the ugly, painful, angry times behind us. Let us be inspired by this old man with the giant heart, and each in our own way, build our beloved country’


Did you hear about a woman who went into a major jewelry shop, and had attendants fluttering around her like butterflies as she chose bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings of gold, pearls, emeralds and diamonds as gifts for her family and friends? She handed over her credit card saying with satisfaction, “Right, that’s my Christmas shopping done.” And walked out with her one bag with many little boxes.


I don’t want to be predictable and call your attention to children in homes, families by the Beetham. Or the fact that everywhere people suffered and fought and struggled, as usual. That’s because I don’t want to take away from the fact that there was definitely something in the air that took people beyond their ordinary lives.


Take the fruit and vegetable stalls alone. The crimson piles of sorrel, and chunky puzzle-shaped ginger waiting to be made into tangy drinks, the clusters of big black grapes, small sweet green ones, seedy purple ones. Even the ordinary onions looked like bronzed shiny decorations. Even here, in the tropics, the weather colludes with us. Mist spreads like transparent white clouds in the green hills. Coloured lights become magical in twilight when the light rain comes down like confetti. Cool breezes play with wind chimes. Lived as it is in a state of heightened excitement, it brings out the best and worst in us all.


The sentimental cry easily. The generous give more. The greedy grab. The stingy hoard. The extravagant are gluttonous. The lonely get suicidal. The drinkers never stop drinking. The bad drivers, who also never stop drinking, lose control, crash and kill themselves and others a lot more. “Well behaved” children whip themselves into frenzy over the tree, over Santa, over toys. And naughty children become impossible whirlpools.


The perfectionists never stop till every curtain is changed, every corner of the house painted, every Christmas dish from the ham, the turkey, the cakes, the sorrel, the ginger beer is made, the pastel is made. (Sometimes they finish working on Christmas night and then drop straight asleep having missed all the festivities.) The amusing are hilarious. The singers break into song at the slightest encouragement.


Most of us go about with our hearts thudding over things we haven’t done yet, and a mild headache (hangover or anxiety take your pick)  which only disappears after Boxing Day. We all let go. The rules are relaxed. We take off our grown-up masks. We all become children. In them lies the hope of this festival which to the annoyance of the religious has taken on pagan qualities of gluttony of food and drink, and a  surfeit of presents, lights, song and celebration. Children hug and kiss you when they love you. They cry when they are sad. They are creative. They are colour blind. They respond to anyone who loves them. They hold nothing back.


This year in this country we adults have flung bottles and crude words at each other. We have done worse. We have in our private and public lives, held divisive views. We have looked on at the marches and the anger from the blocked roads, and the inflammatory headlines, and feared that we would lose our rainbow bubble and become divided like another Guyana. We have shuddered and thought of Bosnia, Israel, Ireland. We have become careless with our gifts


There is a man, however, small in stature with a giant spirit, who combines the honesty and simplicity of children with the power of all that can be good in adults: a strong sense of justice, of standing up for what you believe, for taking up the cause of the weak and oppressed.


His feeling for fellowman has spanned not specific days in a year but generations, and decades. He can, if we want, bring us back from the brink. On this New Year’s eve I have taken the liberty to bring us a gift from President Nelson Mandela with extracts of his inauguration speech on 10th May 1994.


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other

People won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence Automatically liberates others.

Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all.

All this we owe both to ourselves and to the peoples of the world who are so well represented here today.

To my compatriots, I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. Each time one of us touches the soil of this land; we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change. We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom. That spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland explains the depth of the pain we all carried in our hearts, as we saw our country tear itself apart in a terrible conflict, and as we saw it spurned, outlawed and isolated by the peoples of the world, precisely because it has become the universal base of the pernicious ideology and practice of racism and racial oppression.

We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil.

We thank all our distinguished international guests for having come to take possession with the people of our country of what is, after all, a common victory for justice, for peace, for human dignity.

We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace,  prosperity, non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy.

We deeply appreciate the role that the masses of our people and their political mass democratic, religious, women, youth, business, traditional and other leaders have played to bring about this conclusion.

The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.

We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.  We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people.

We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world. We dedicate this day to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free.

Their dreams have become reality. Freedom is their reward. We are both humbled and elevated by the honour and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa, to lead our country out of the valley of darkness.

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.”


Are these the words I ask you of a man who has been incarcerated, tortured, locked up for most of his life? A man, who has seen his comrades being shot, tortured, killed, maimed because they believed in justice. A man who only had long hours in a prison cell as a life? Exchange jacaranda trees of Pretoria to Poui trees of Port of Spain and the mimosa trees of the bushveld to the Samaan tree and President Mandela could be speaking to us.


Time is running out on us. As hard as it is, we have to heed the words of this great man because once we get on the train of self-destruction, its hard to get off. Let us cherish our gifts of creativity and tolerance, denied to so many countries, and put the ugly, painful, angry times behind us.


Let us be inspired by this old man with the giant heart, and each in our own way, build our beloved country, work hard to fulfill our potential as human-beings, protect the weak and dispossessed, deal with our problems with courage, and above all let us do it together, as one people. Happy New Year!

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur