HE HAD tea and koeksisters with the widow of apartheid’s architect and emerged from the “crucible of suffering” as the “stalwart of reconciliation”, and in doing all this former president Nelson Mandela affected the “chemistry” of South Africa.
This is according to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who on Monday night delivered a moving, and animated, tribute to Mandela in Houghton, hailing his fellow Nobel laureate as a “magician with a magic wand”.
Mandela died last Thursday, enveloping South Africa and the world in a commemoration many are describing as a celebration of his life.
On the eve of the largest memorial service to have taken place in Africa, Archbishop Tutu asked people in a packed tent at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory to imagine that the anti-apartheid icon had died in prison, causing the audience to collectively gasp.
He proceeded in a joyous tone, describing the miracle of the country’s transformation to democracy, under Mr Mandela’s leadership.
“We triumphed,” Archbishop Tutu said to applause. “Justice and goodness triumphed.”
The world watched as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission unfolded, where “blood curdling details” of atrocities were shared and the world watched the magnanimity of victims, who forgave their oppressors. “What a fantastic gift God gave us in Mandela,” he said.
“He goes to Orania … a place they are saying is only for Afrikaners, to do what? Can you imagine? The president went to have tea and koeksisters with the widow of the architect of apartheid.
“It is unbelievable, but it happened, and the chemistry of this country began to be affected.”
Even in death, Mandela was uniting South Africans across the racial divide, Archbishop Tutu said.
He reminded his audience of the 1996 Rugby World Cup when Mandela strutted out in a Springbok jersey — to support the national rugby team — and at the time his mainly Afrikaans audience began chanting in his support.
“Any other president would have looked clumsy … and as he comes out, that place erupted; Nelson, Nelson, Nelson, Nelson … It’s incredible, unbelievable,” he said.
Archbishop Tutu then told his audience about the front page of Rapport newspaper — South Africa’s “main” Sunday Afrikaans newspaper.
“The front page, you can’t believe it!” He told of the picture on the front page of a young, white Afrikaans man with his arms around a middle-aged black woman.
“She is crying and he is comforting her, this is what Madiba has done,” he said.
Archbishop Tutu thanked the world for its role in liberating South Africa from apartheid.
He spoke as heads of state and ordinary citizens from across the globe began descending on the country ahead of Mandela’s memorial service today and his burial, which is due to take place in Qunu on Sunday.
South Africa owed a great debt to people across the world for their support to end apartheid more than 20 years ago, he said.
“We South Africans want to say thank you … thank you for having supported us. Thank you for giving the world this amazing person, this prisoner who helped to set the world free,” Archbishop Tutu said.