tribute archbishop Njongonkulu

There is no doubt that among Nelson Mandela's many gifts from which the people of South Africa and of the wider world have benefited, it is his abilities as a leader that have shaped his most remarkable contributions to our life and times.

The quintessential mark of true leadership is the ability to inspire people to follow to a place where they have never been. Madiba set before us all the clear vision of a promised land where all South Africans could live together, following a path of reconciliation to a place of hope and of new beginnings and of opportunity for everyone. For too long we had feared that the divisions and conflicts of apartheid were increasingly insuperable, and that whatever the outcome of the struggle, the victors, if such they could be called, would be left inheriting only ashes.

Madiba's leadership brought win-win out of the expectation of lose-lose. He broke out of the dead-end in which we feared we were trapped, and created the possibilities of new routes forward, where negotiation could take place and the horrors of the past could be tackled with honesty, truthfulness and humility, so that forgiveness could be sought and offered and received, and fresh starts could be made.

He modelled this commitment to reconciliation within his own person - an apostle of forgiveness par excellence - in the attitudes he forged even towards those who had held him captive. As he later said: "One of the things I learnt when I was negotiating was that until I changed myself, I could not change others." Like another inspirational leader of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, who counselled: "Be the change you want to see in the world", he knew that one could not preach change without modelling change.

So he was prepared to act out in his own life the change he desired to see in his nation, and to find a redemptive catharsis that brought freedom to captor and captive together. This was no "cheap grace", but was chiselled on the anvil of pain and suffering, hewn in the quarries of Robben Island. And so neither does his life demonstrate a "cheap peace", but rather breaks into the smallness of our own responses to our own hurts with profoundly transformative effect. With a heart that is far larger than life, he is able to embrace even his jailers, and give us courage to believe in a hope-filled future.

That great-heartedness is no mere political stance, but colours his daily dealings with others. Even when one locks horns with him, as I have done on occasion, he remains approachable, and initiates possibilities for fresh engagement and progress forward together. He does not worry about who is seen to make the first move, and he is always ready to pick up the phone and go straight to those with whom he wants to deal.

I remember once he rang me while I was in a retreat house in Germany, to ask that I bring the religious leaders of the Western Cape to see him and discuss how we could address local issues in partnership. It certainly did wonders for my reputation among the sisters of the convent when they realised that I was someone whom Nelson Mandela called on the phone, and they refused to believe that I was one among a great many!


The American journalist Walter Lippman said, after the death of Franklin D Roosevelt, that "the final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on". We must hold fast to Madiba's example. He is the one who led us into this promised land of a South Africa of opportunity for everyone. We must not squander his vision and the new realities he placed before us, by merely exchanging one elite for another, while the vast majority are excluded, though now through economic separation.

The essence of Madiba's understanding of leadership is summed up in words he used in Cape Town in February 1990, following his release: "I stand before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people."

It is my prayer, as one who serves another Servant King, that, if nothing else, those to whom we today entrust the leadership of our nation, our people, our future, will know that to be great leaders, they, too, must be humble servants. I thank Madiba for all that he has given us, and I thank God for his gift of Madiba to us.
(2007)