Saying farewell to Nelson Mandela
By David Greybe
What a week it turned out to be between the Second and Third Sundays of Advent.
On the Second Sunday I joined Bishop Nigel Peyton and the congregation of St Paul’s Cathedral in Dundee to pay our respects to Nelson Mandela who had passed away three days earlier. As a former political journalist in South Africa, I was asked to reflect briefly on Mandela’s decade in politics following his release. It was a lovely way to pay tribute to a ‘giant of history’.
On the Third Sunday I was standing atop a hill in Qunu in the Transkei overlooking Mandela’s house in the valley below where his state funeral was taking place. We could see the graveside, the 21 ceremonial cannons nearby, and the VIP tent with 4,500 invited guests. It was a very moving experience, saying farewell to Mandela in his home village on a beautiful African day.
The area had been turned into a public mourning site, with tents and a giant television screen for members of the public. There was a great mix of local villagers and those who had travelled from further afield.
In our case, it was my three sisters and brother and our families. We were in South Africa to attend our mother’s funeral two days earlier. What made my mother’s send-off extra special was the fact that all five her children, who live on five different continents, were present.
As a family, we decided to attend Mandela’s funeral in rural Transkei 300 miles away. In my case, I was joined by Ann, my wife of three weeks. It was a great privilege being there, and we all felt it.
Looking back now, I can only echo what Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said that week, that Mandela would live on through his values. “The best tribute each one of us can give is to embrace the values he gave us,” Archbishop Tutu said during a prayer service at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
“He may not be physically with us, but let us not make a mistake and think he is not with us. ...Ours is to continue to proclaim the message of his values... Whether it is easy or difficult for us to do so,” Archbishop Tutu said.
Mandela's values were those of the gospel; peace, love and reconciliation, Archbishop Tutu said, adding: “Working together we can make a difference.”