Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty, permanent representative of South Africa to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva, Switzerland, recalled his friend and former president Nelson Mandela in a memorial service on 16 December 2013 at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.
The service of prayer, remembrance and thanksgiving for Mandela’s life was sponsored by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and led by participants from the WCC, ACT Alliance, Conference of European Churches, Lutheran World Federation, World Communion of Reformed Churches, World Student Christian Federation and the World YWCA.
In welcoming remarks, the WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, noted that the ecumenical movement as a whole lent support to Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement for many decades. Tveit and other religious leaders from throughout the world travelled to South Africa over the past ten days, praying with the family and nation.
“In a remarkable way, Mandela gathered the whole world to celebrate the best and shared values of human beings, also in the moment of his death. This was a miracle in itself, a new sign of hope he gave to the world,” he said.
Tveit recalled the challenge issued by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at last week’s memorial celebration in a Johannesburg stadium, “Do you commit yourselves to the values of Nelson Mandela?”
“None of us can be like him,” said Tveit. “But we can follow him. We all can learn from him.”
Dr Agnes Abuom of Kenya, newly elected moderator of the WCC Central Committee, recalled Mandela as “the model and epitome of the full liberation we seek.” She compared him to Joseph in the biblical book of Genesis, capable of forgiving those who had sold him into decades of slavery. Even so, “supporting Nelson Mandela was not always fashionable.”
Abuom said that “Mandela was a gift from the continent of Africa to the whole world”, attracting heads of state and government from more than half the nations and providing once again the sense of “a new global consciousness”.
Ambassador Minty said that the Ecumenical Centre service on Monday 16 December happened to fall on a South African holiday, the Day of Reconciliation. This year, a monumental statue of Mandela is being unveiled in South Africa.
Minty was a schoolboy when he first met Mandela in the 1950s. He reminisced him, both as a great leader and as a person with genuine concern for all people he met.
He paid tribute to the many individuals, communities and institutions that struggled against apartheid over many years. He offered thanks in particular to the “very, very prophetic role” played by the WCC and its Programme to Combat Racism (PCR). He praised church leaders, including former WCC general secretary Philip Potter, the first PCR director Baldwin Sjollema, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu who chaired the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission during Mandela’s presidency.
Minty also honoured the memory of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston from the Church of England, “a lifelong friend to Nelson Mandela” who “played a kind of Gandhian role” in the anti-apartheid movement.
Minty concluded, “We all have the responsibility to answer for ourselves how we can take up the legacy that Nelson Mandela leaves us with. And how can we all live up to that great legacy and create or turn hope into reality?”