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'We’ve failed to live up to Mandela’s vision'

13 December 2013, 09:51

Johannesburg - South Africa has failed to live up to the vision of former president Nelson Mandela, his friend and lawyer George Bizos said on Thursday.

"We have failed to live up to the vision of Mandela," said Bizos. "We have failed materially in many respects."

Bizos was speaking at a celebration and memorial for Mandela at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

He said Mandela had a vision of a country that was to be free of poverty and corruption, and never wanted the country to be a "one man" state.

However, Bizos said he was angered to hear people who said that little had changed since the country gained its democracy years ago.

He said, looking at the audience and the students of Wits, that change was evident. The Wits Great Hall was packed to capacity with people of different races for the memorial.

Chairs and screens were placed on the corridor outside the hall to accommodate those who could not be let in.

"Mandela saved South Africa from a bloody civil war because he believed that fanatics were responsible for civil wars. He was not a fanatic," said Bizos.

He criticised those who claimed to be walking in Mandela's footsteps yet failed to follow his example.

"As soon as he was elected as president, he announced that a third of his salary would be dedicated to building a school," said Bizos.

“Mandela could relate to anyone”

"Who do people think they are fooling, saying they are following in Mandela's footsteps?" asked Bizos.

Mandela's friend and fellow political prisoner, Ahmed Kathrada, said he would miss Mandela.

"Individuals come and go but policies are there to stay," said Kathrada.

"We will miss him but I am sure that the policies he fought for will remain," he said.

Earlier he shared his memories about Mandela.

Kathrada said he one day heard Mandela speak to someone whom he referred to as "Elizabeth" over the phone.

Kathrada said he asked Mandela who was the Elizabeth he was referring to.

He said it was the queen.

"Mandela said he referred to the queen as Elizabeth because the queen referred to him as Nelson," said Kathrada.

The crowd roared in laughter.

Kathrada said Mandela could relate to anyone, whether it be children or people of royalty.

Laid back public conversation

Bizos and Kathrada were speaking in a laid back public conversation before a crowd with Wits Chancellor and deputy of chief justice Dikgang Moseneke leading the talk.

Moseneke highlighted the things that the country needed in order to progress.

"We need the Public Protector," he said. "We need a good parliament... We need good security forces... We need good political parties... We need good leaders," he said.

"I wake up to work for you."

Wits vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib said Mandela was the university's most renowned student.

Mandela had spent six years at the institution in the 1940s studying for his LLB.

He did not complete his degree there but went on to finish at the University of South Africa.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said that while Mandela did not leave Wits with a certificate, he went through many life-shaping events in his six years there, including marrying his first wife Evelyn Mase and becoming a father.

Habib said he was ashamed that Mandela had suffered racial prejudice while at the institution, which led to him not finishing his degree there.

He pledged that no student would ever feel alienated at the institution again.

A wall of remembrance in honour of Mandela and all the struggle heroes was to be erected at the school.

Ills of the past

Bizos, who said he had met Mandela at the Great Hall in 1948, said during his time Mandela was one of the best dressed students at Wits.

"I remember Nelson Mandela as tall, handsome and the best dressed student always," said Bizos.

"I don't know where he got the money from."

He said Mandela was always in a suit and wore shiny shoes.

The Wits choir, its school of music, and globally acclaimed musician Lira provided the entertainment at the event.

Dressed in a black and gold outfit, Lira gave her rendition of a song titled "Something inside so strong," which she had recorded for Mandela back in 2010.

"Mandela taught me to let go of the ills of the past as they can only slow you down," she told the audience before her performance.

The crowd stood up and clapped for several minutes as the elderly Kathrada and Bizos walked out of the hall.

After the event, the Wits choir continued to sing outside the Great Hall and scores of people joined in, ululating and singing alongside them.

Mandela, 95, died at his Houghton, Johannesburg home last week.

He is to be buried in Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Sunday.

Friends, colleagues, comrades and family of Nelson Mandela are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at Remembered.co.za.



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