tribute pregs govender

Dear Madiba

Apartheid, in its hate, fear and greed, imprisoned you for 27 years, separating you from your loved ones and the ANC, the organisation you had led. Aware that apartheid's values permeated our hearts and minds, you committed yourself to a daily practice of internal reflection in silence, determined to affirm and assert human values that would keep your heart and soul safe. You emerged triumphant, embodying love, insisting that you, not those who imprisoned you, owned your heart. By your example, you taught us about the courage that emerges from the power of love.

Despite apartheid's deliberate attempt to crush our sense of self and community, you expressed the deepest self-respect and respect for others. Apartheid met your generosity with the cynical realpolitik of the massacre of innocents in Boipotong; a third force who randomly shot and killed train passengers in Gauteng and carefully engineered "black on black" violence in Kwazulu Natal. Apartheid's white leaders, who engineered this violence with the collusion of their black lackeys, did not prejudice or embitter you towards all whites. You maintained that the key was working as part of a non-racial movement to transform the system of apartheid that used violence to prescribe black South Africans to a life of poverty and violence. I met you for the first time in February 1994 when our delegation handed you our women's national coalition report. In it women of our country demanded everything from water to land to an end to violence. Women wanted a future shaped by peace, justice and equality. I did not expect you to know anything about me, yet you looked directly into my eyes, smiled warmly and acknowledged my contribution. My heart soared. It was my first experience of your renowned ability to recognise and respect the inherent worth of every single human being.

Yet in the new South Africa you refused to be deified and put on a pedestal. You shared your fallibilities and foibles with us in the ANC's Caucus. You made mistakes - it was under your watch that government began negotiating the arms deal. Yet your example inspired truthfulness and the courage to remain true to those who voted us into power. You affirmed for me that it was possible to respect someone deeply and disagree vigorously.

Your sense of humour and love of life shone through in unexpected moments. On the first day of Parliament, Lindiwe Sisulu drew a large smiling face and asked me to sign it. On receiving it, you turned around to us on the back bench, waved and grinned broadly. In the ANC Caucus, you sat with your feet up as you held Janet Love's baby, bringing warm laughter into the place from which apartheid designed its brutality.

Thank you for the inspiration of your life and leadership.