Associate Country Director for Oxfam in South Africa and former ANC activist, Pooven Moodley shares his thoughts on the passing of Nelson Mandela, remembering his encounters with the great man and celebrating his legacy.
Most South Africans have been preparing for this moment for a long time. However, none of that mental preparation could prevent the huge sense of loss and collective emotion sweeping across the country and around the world.
Mandela’s leadership … has certainly inspired a new generation of activistsI heard the news of Madiba’s passing while at a BRICS meeting in Mexico City. It became clear in the room that this giant of a man had had an enormous impact, not just on South Africans, but on people across the globe.
When the news came through, we were discussing the struggles across the BRICS countries including those of El Barzón in Mexico. Mandela’s leadership of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and injustice beyond has certainly inspired a new generation of activists.
After the ANC leaders were released, I was fortunate to meet many of them, as our branch of the African National Congress hosted the leaders at Chief Albert Luthuli‘s house near Kwa Dukuza. After years of struggle it was one moment that will be eternally engraved in my mind. There was an amazing sense of achievement and celebration.
As a student leader of the Black Students Society and Student Representative Council, I believed, along with my fellow student activists, that ‘we shall overcome,’ largely through the vision of Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela. Madiba was a true visionary who dreamt of a future while most people were focussed on the struggle at hand. While being targeted by the security forces during our protests and underground activities, Madiba remained the constant bright light during the darkest days for most activists. As
we faced the brutal security forces, singing songs about Mandela made us feel powerful and invincible. He really inspired us to fight unconditionally for what we all believed in. After his release, Madiba visited our university to officially open the Albert Luthuli residence. It was an incredible moment that words will fail to describe.Madiba was a true visionary who dreamt of a future while most people were focussed on the struggle at hand
When I completed by student days I worked for a human rights law firm, that included many of the lawyers who were close to Madiba. My thinking about and passion for human rights was shaped during this time by the likes of Arthur Chaskalson, Geoff Budlender, George Bizos and others. Hearing their stories about Madiba will remain with me and continue to
shape me. Being a lobbyist in Parliament as the new government came into place was a time of celebration and also reflection.
Being able to be in the company of all the comrades before and after democracy and reflecting on the days of the struggle, was a period of an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. During this time I also had the privilege of working with the likes of Albertina Sisulu and Adelaide Tambo. It was also an amazing period as Madiba was hosting a range of world leaders (from the Dalai Lama to Arafat, Castro and Clinton) who wanted to visit him during his term of
first president. I was invited together with a range of other people to some of these meetings. I was once invited to a meeting when Princess Diana visited and we worked out a plan for her involvement with the HIV and AIDS work in South Africa. Tragically she died a few months later. He would want to chat with every person that he passed and was genuinely interested in people’s stories
Two things stand out: wherever he went he had an amazing presence that filled the space and people were drawn into this incredible aura. He would want to chat with every person that he passed and was genuinely interested in people’s stories, often to the annoyance of his security detail.
Secondly, he respected time. If someone arrived late for a meeting he was hosting, he would stop the meeting and chastise that person. He really valued time after he was released from prison. The fact that he only served one term as President and then spent quality time with his family was the perfect tonic for him and an example to the rest of the continent.
Madiba inspired many of my choices, including studying and being involved in the human rights field. He will continue to inspire activists in South Africa and across the globe to ensure we have a world that is fair and just and more equitable. A world where rights’ of people are respected and where people can live a meaningful life.
Long live the legacy of Madiba!
- Read Oxfam’s response to the death of Mandela with comments from Winnie Byanyima Executive Director of Oxfam International, and Joel Joffe the lawyer who defended Mandela at the Rivonia Trial.
- Browse Oxfam publications related to South Africa