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Nelson Mandela life story: Thabo Mbeki's praise poem

'You have stood at the brink...'

You have walked along the road of the heroes and the heroines.

You have borne the pain of those who have known fear and learnt to conquer it.

You have marched in front when comfort was in the midst of the ranks

You have laughed to contend against a river of tears.

You have cried to broadcast a story of joy...

The accident of your birth should have condemned you to a village.

Circumstances you did not choose should have confined you to a district.

Your sight, your heart and your mind could have reached no further than the horizon of the natural eye.

But you have been where you should not have been.

You have faced death and said - do your worst!

You have inhabited the dark, dark dungeons of freedom denied, itself a denial to live in a society where freedom was denied.

You have looked at the faces of some of those who were your comrades, who turned their eyes away from you because somewhere in their mortal being there lingered the remnants of a sense of shame, always and for ever whispering softly - no to treachery! A thing in the shadows, present at every dawn, repeating, repeating, repeating - I am Conscience, to whom you have denied a home.

You have not asked - who indeed are these for whose lives I was prepared to die!

You have asked - who am I, that I too did not falter, so that I too could turn my own eyes away from myself and another, who was a comrade.

You have stood at the brink, when you had to appeal to the gods about whether to win a dishonourable peace or to lose the lives of your people, and decided that none among these would exchange their lives for an existence without honour.

You have been where nobody should be asked to be.

You have carried burdens heavier than those who felt it their responsibility and right to proclaim you an enemy of the state.

You have to convince your enemies to believe a story difficult to believe, because it was true, that your burnished spear glittered in the rays of the sun, not to speak of hatred and death from them, but because you prayed that its blinding brilliance would tell them, whose ears would not hear, that you loved them as your own kith and kin.

You have had to bear the mantle of sainthood when all you sought was pride in the knowledge that you were a good foot soldier for justice and freedom...

From "A Farewell to Madiba", a praise poem by Thabo Mbeki (president of South Africa from 1999 to 2008), delivered by him to the National Assembly, Cape Town, on 26 March 1999  


Further reading

Nelson Mandela dead: South Africa's first black president and anti-apartheid icon dies at 95

In The Independent on Saturday:


A special supplement celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela