Tribute from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela at Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberly, South Africa, 1994.

Nelson Mandela at Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberly, South Africa, 1994.

Dec. 5 — The Congress of South African Trade Unions joins all South Africans, and millions more all over the world, in mourning the sad loss today, 5 December 2013, of the greatest ever South African and most inspirational leader in our struggle for liberty and democracy, our beloved Comrade, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Comrade Madiba inspired all those fighting for freedom in South Africa and around the world. He suffered long and brutal incarceration, but never became embittered and revengeful. He was elected as our first democratically elected President, but remained a humble and modest servant of his people, who never put his personal interests before his commitment to the struggle.

He never compromised his democratic principles or thought of anything but how to win the ultimate victory of the struggle he lived for, and was prepared to die for — for a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and free South Africa.

Although Comrade Madiba would have insisted that full credit be given to the other giants of the struggle — Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chief Albert Luthuli, Joe Slovo, Chris Hani and many others — he was unique, the South African who, more than any other, became the embodiment of the struggle against racist dictatorship, apartheid brutality, and the exploitation of workers and the poor.

He was honoured with over 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin. But for South African workers, the one which we shall always remember is the inaugural Elijah Barayi Award for outstanding leadership and service, presented on COSATU’s 15th birthday in 2000.

There was absolutely no doubt about who should be the first recipient: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The citation to that award declared: “You have been a constant inspiration to us from the days of the Congress of the People, through the armed struggle, the dark days in prison and exile, the mass uprisings of the eighties, to the period of negotiations, and finally the days of liberation and reconstruction.

“You have always first and foremost been the leader of the people’s movement. Whether you were the young lion fighting to radicalise the ANC, the leader of the defiance campaign, the `black pimpernel’ avoiding the clutches of the security police, the MK [an abbreviation for “Umkhonto we Sizwe,” the armed wing of the African National Congress] commander-in-chief seeking weapons and funding in Africa, and unifier and leader on Robben Island, or the negotiator, a statesman and first President of a democratic South Africa, you never lost sight of your role as the leader and servant of the liberation movement.

“You have taught us all this lesson, through your commitment, your dedication, your humility, your selflessness, your loyalty and your discipline: that to be a true leader is to be a servant of your people. For this we salute you.”

The citation concluded with the words of a popular liberation song once sung by MK troops in Angola: “We shall always love you, we shall need you, for the things you’ve done for us.”

Now, he is no longer with us in person but his example shines more brightly than ever, and will continue to inspire and guide us for as long as we shall live.

The best way to honour his memory is to take forward the struggle he led, and obey the call he made during the ANC’s 50th National Conference: “Here are the reins of the movement — protect and guide its precious legacy; defend its unity and integrity as committed disciples of change; pursue its popular objectives like true revolutionaries who seek only to serve the nation.”

COSATU sends its condolences to all Comrade Madiba’s family, and all his friends and comrades.

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