tribute jody kollapen

Dear Mr Mandela

I imagine "human rights" has become the defining feature of our times as we use its philosophy and its imperatives to craft a better world. At the same time, human rights have become a large industry, nice in sound and nice to do, and all and sundry, including dictators and despots, warmongers, greedy capitalists and some questionable celebrities, have "embraced it". It has been manipulated, distorted, repackaged and reinvented and, indeed, has come to mean anything and everything to everybody. We have simply lost sight of its most essential ingredient - that we share a common destiny and humanity. You, sir, continue to remind us, in what you say and how you say it, what you do and how you do it and in how you relate to your world, of that most essential ingredient.

I have seen you greet the cleaner and the Queen and give to each the same respect and bring to each the inner joy and humility that must reside so abundantly in you. I have seen you take issue and reprimand us with such dignity that it builds and nurtures rather than undermines. I have seen your capacity to forgive and embrace as worthy of respect those who oppressed you. In all of this I have seen the potential of a better world through your eyes, and you have quite compellingly shown that human rights is not about rhetoric and fancy legal texts but about internalising the values we must share as humans - of dignity, of equality and of respect.

On a personal level, and while I accept that our struggle was a common one and one for which the people must be acknowledged, you, sir, have restored to me and my family our dignity, our great sense of pride in being humans and in being South Africans and our belief that a better world is always possible. My mum, who marched in the 50s and was part of Mrs Pillay's group in Marabastad, always told me what a great man you were. I believed her then because she was my mum. I now know, with respect to her, that it may have been quite an understatement.

(2007)