tribute jill

We are in Brixton, a suburb of London. Prince Charles and Nelson Mandela are coming out of the centre they are visiting, descending the stairs into the street where throngs of people are gathered, pushing against the barricades; uniformed "bobbies" doing their best to hold the line. Mandela is ushered towards his car. He looks around. A young woman is holding a beautiful painting she has just completed, and wants to give it to him. Typically, he makes his way to her, expresses his delight at her gift, shakes hands with those around her. The crowd surges forward, barricades fall - a familiar scene often repeated across South Africa, indeed typical of wherever Mandela goes. For he is a man of the people always ready to acknowledge others, he has restored dignity and pride to black people across the continent and beyond; a man who has become a worldwide symbol of integrity, purpose, principle and humanity - personifying the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

Looking back, I have no doubt that it was the lifelong friendship between Madiba and my late father, Nathan Marcus, that had a great influence on my life and the choices I have made. Many images spring to mind: a visit while underground before his arrest, going with my dad to our smallholding to see if it was suitable for housing cadres; laughing with my mother over her concerns for his wellbeing; our first meeting after his release in the ANC head office in Sauer Street and the instant recall not only of all the members of my family, but also their interests, age and appearance.

His personal influence, and the love and respect he enjoys, enables him to draw out the strengths of all who interact with him, so that ordinary people do extraordinary things. Madiba is a unique gift to South Africa and the world. The leadership he has displayed for the greater part of a century, through the most trying of times both personal and political, embodies the hope of humankind for a better world and a future not only for the despised and downtrodden, but for everyone.

It has been a privilege and honour for me to know and work with Nelson Mandela, a legend in his lifetime, but a man who is, in fact, greater than the myths that surround him. A man who epitomises how steel is tempered without losing sight of the need for dignity, respect, a love of life and the ability for each of us to be the best that we can be.

(2007)