11. December 2013

Moving Mandela Memorial Service in Vienna

In a moving Memorial Service organised by the South African embassy at the Lutheran City Church in Vienna, Austrian and international dignitaries as well as participants from the general population paid tribute to the late President Nelson Mandela on Dec 11, 2013.

After the South African National Anthem, Reverends Ines Knoll (Lutheran City Church), Stefan Schröckenfuchs (Methodist Church) and Kathy Young (English Speaking United Methodist Church of Vienna) led the religious ceremony with the singing of hymns and the reading of biblical texts related to the passing away of the great leader.

In the following Naming and Witness section, Austrian Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, Apostolic Nuncio Peter Stephan Zurbriggen as Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Mazlan Othman on behalf of the United Nations Office at Vienna, Renate Brauner, Vice Mayor of the City of Vienna, Walter Sauer representing the Southern Africa Documentation and Co-operation Centre (SADOCC) and finally Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo took the floor.

We document below the witness statement made by SADOCC chair Walter Sauer:

Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa, your excellencies, friends and comrades from the solidarity movement, ladies and gentlemen.

Permit me – on this sad day – to bring into our memory another, but bright and joyful day, the 10th of May 1994, when Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President.

It was a bit chilly, that morning, when delegates of Anti Apartheid Movements from everywhere gathered at a designated point in Pretoria, before sunrise.

They took us by bus – through tight security – up the hill into Union Buildings – Union Buildings which over all these years had been a symbol of oppression to us, and which was now to be transformed into the heart of democratic government.

Gradually, the sun rose and it became a warm day, the new South African flag everywhere, and there was singing and dancing and excitement. And when the ceremony started it was in itself – in addition to what Madiba said in his first speech as President – a symbol of transformation, surprising for many.

Ø There was an African praise-singer who escorted Mandela onto the podium, Ø there was a prominent writer who read a poem in various national languages, Ø there were the leaders of the four major religious communities who prayed for the new government.

The late President Mandela consciously acknowledged the various contributions made towards liberation in South Africa – by people of different political affiliations, different ideologies, different languages, cultures or religions – both within the country and international.

„We dedicate this day“ – I quote from his inauguration speech – „to all the heroes and heroines in this country and the rest of the world who sacrificed in many ways and surrendered their lives so that we could be free.“

In paying tribute to Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela today, we therefore pay tribute also to millions of South Africans, who gave their lives or had to endure decades of suffering in order to free South Africa from constitutionally entrenched discrimination. We pay tribute to their organisations like the Mass Democratic Movement, the non-racial trade unions, churches and religious communities, last but not least the national liberation movement, the African National Congress, including Umkhonto we Sizwe.

We are convinced that Mandela was one of the greatest political leaders in 20th century but we know – and he was aware of that himself – that a leader becomes great only through mass support.

But in paying tribute to Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela today, we pay tribute also to the international community and in particular to those international forces who supported the liberation struggle in South Africa by rendering assistance to freedom fighters and by boycotting, interrupting the political, economic and military lifelines which kept the racist regime alive.

Had it not been for the United Nations, some courageous governments and grassroots movements all over the world to stand up and say no to arms deliveries, bank loans, trade or governmental and propaganda cooperation to and with Apartheid South Africa, the freedom struggle would have been even more protracted.

By inviting representatives of Anti Apartheid Movements from all over the world to inauguration and by seating them next to the Heads of States or governments in the courtyard of Union Building – the same place where Mandela is lying in state today – South Africa has certainly acknowledged the role played by the solidarity movement, and is continuing to do so.

But Mandela, in his inauguration speech, had still another message to send – one that today seems more relevant than ever. Let me quote:

„We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination… Let there be work, bread, water and soil for all.“

We are convinced that there have been many successes on the way towards that goal, but nobody would dare to say that it has already been achieved. There is the need for concerted efforts by all stakeholders in South Africa – government, trade unions, churches, but also civil society and the population in general – to eradicate the root causes of poverty and inequality.

And again, it will require solidarity by the international community – United Nations, governments and grassroots movements – to support South Africa in meeting this challenge. Why don’t we elaborate more about fair trade arrangements, social responsibilities of investors or negative effects of globalisation – and of the crisis of globalisation – on the poor in South Africa?

No doubt, it is important to honour Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela by naming streets after him or by erecting monuments. But it is probably even more important to act to implement the great visions which constituted Mandela’s legacy: non-racism and non-sexism, national reconciliation, and socio-economic equality.

All of us have still a role to play. (SADOCC)


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