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Remembeiing Nelson Nanuela
}ohannesbuig, South Afiica
Becembei 1u, 2u1S
To uiaça Nachel anu the Nanuela family; to Piesiuent Zuma anu membeis of the
goveinment; to heaus of state anu goveinment, past anu piesent; uistinguisheu
guests - it is a singulai honoi to be with you touay, to celebiate a life unlike any
othei. To the people of South Afiica - people of eveiy iace anu walk of life - the
woilu thanks you foi shaiing Nelson Nanuela with us. Bis stiuggle was youi
stiuggle. Bis tiiumph was youi tiiumph. Youi uignity anu hope founu expiession in
his life, anu youi fieeuom, youi uemociacy is his cheiisheu legacy.
It is haiu to eulogize any man - to captuie in woius not just the facts anu the uates
that make a life, but the essential tiuth of a peison - theii piivate joys anu soiiows;
the quiet moments anu unique qualities that illuminate someone's soul. Bow much
haiuei to uo so foi a giant of histoiy, who moveu a nation towaiu justice, anu in the
piocess moveu billions aiounu the woilu.
Boin uuiing Woilu Wai I, fai fiom the coiiiuois of powei, a boy iaiseu heiuing
cattle anu tutoieu by elueis of his Thembu tiibe - Nauiba woulu emeige as the last
gieat libeiatoi of the 2uth centuiy. Like uanuhi, he woulu leau a iesistance
movement - a movement that at its stait helu little piospect of success. Like King, he
woulu give potent voice to the claims of the oppiesseu, anu the moial necessity of
iacial justice. Be woulu enuuie a biutal impiisonment that began in the time of
Kenneuy anu Khiushchev, anu ieacheu the final uays of the Colu Wai. Emeiging
fiom piison, without foice of aims, he woulu - like Lincoln - holu his countiy
togethei when it thieateneu to bieak apait. Like Ameiica's founuing fatheis, he
woulu eiect a constitutional oiuei to pieseive fieeuom foi futuie geneiations - a
commitment to uemociacy anu iule of law iatifieu not only by his election, but by
his willingness to step uown fiom powei.
uiven the sweep of his life, anu the auoiation that he so iightly eaineu, it is tempting
then to iemembei Nelson Nanuela as an icon, smiling anu seiene, uetacheu fiom the
tawuiy affaiis of lessei men. But Nauiba himself stiongly iesisteu such a lifeless
poitiait. Insteau, he insisteu on shaiing with us his uoubts anu feais; his
miscalculations along with his victoiies. "I'm not a saint," he saiu, "unless you think
of a saint as a sinnei who keeps on tiying."
It was piecisely because he coulu aumit to impeifection - because he coulu be so full
of goou humoi, even mischief, uespite the heavy buiuens he caiiieu - that we loveu
him so. Be was not a bust maue of maible; he was a man of flesh anu bloou - a son
anu husbanu, a fathei anu a fiienu. That is why we leaineu so much fiom him; that
is why we can leain fiom him still. Foi nothing he achieveu was inevitable. In the
aic of his life, we see a man who eaineu his place in histoiy thiough stiuggle anu
shiewuness; peisistence anu faith. Be tells us what's possible not just in the pages
of uusty histoiy books, but in oui own lives as well.
Nanuela showeu us the powei of action; of taking iisks on behalf of oui iueals.
Peihaps Nauiba was iight that he inheiiteu, "a piouu iebelliousness, a stubboin
sense of faiiness" fiom his fathei. Ceitainly he shaieu with millions of black anu
coloieu South Afiicans the angei boin of, "a thousanu slights, a thousanu inuignities,
a thousanu uniemembeieu moments.a uesiie to fight the system that impiisoneu
But like othei eaily giants of the ANC - the Sisulus anu Tambos - Nauiba uisciplineu
his angei; anu channeleu his uesiie to fight into oiganization, anu platfoims, anu
stiategies foi action, so men anu women coulu stanu-up foi theii uignity. Noieovei,
he accepteu the consequences of his actions, knowing that stanuing up to poweiful
inteiests anu injustice caiiies a piice. "I have fought against white uomination anu I
have fought against black uomination," he saiu at his 1964 tiial. "I've cheiisheu the
iueal of a uemociatic anu fiee society in which all peisons live togethei in haimony
anu with equal oppoitunities. It is an iueal which I hope to live foi anu to achieve.
But if neeus be, it is an iueal foi which I am piepaieu to uie."
Nanuela taught us the powei of action, but also iueas; the impoitance of ieason anu
aiguments; the neeu to stuuy not only those you agiee with, but those who you
uon't. Be unueistoou that iueas cannot be containeu by piison walls, oi
extinguisheu by a snipei's bullet. Be tuineu his tiial into an inuictment of apaitheiu
because of his eloquence anu passion, but also his tiaining as an auvocate. Be useu
uecaues in piison to shaipen his aiguments, but also to spieau his thiist foi
knowleuge to otheis in the movement. Anu he leaineu the language anu customs of
his oppiessoi so that one uay he might bettei convey to them how theii own
fieeuom uepenueu upon his.
Nanuela uemonstiateu that action anu iueas aie not enough; no mattei how iight,
they must be chiseleu into laws anu institutions. Be was piactical, testing his beliefs
against the haiu suiface of ciicumstance anu histoiy. 0n coie piinciples he was
unyieluing, which is why he coulu iebuff offeis of conuitional ielease, ieminuing the
Apaitheiu iegime that, "piisoneis cannot entei into contiacts." But as he showeu in
painstaking negotiations to tiansfei powei anu uiaft new laws, he was not afiaiu to
compiomise foi the sake of a laigei goal. Anu because he was not only a leauei of a
movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emeigeu was woithy of this
multiiacial uemociacy; tiue to his vision of laws that piotect minoiity as well as
majoiity iights, anu the piecious fieeuoms of eveiy South Afiican.
Finally, Nanuela unueistoou the ties that binu the human spiiit. Theie is a woiu in
South Afiica- 0buntu - that uesciibes his gieatest gift: his iecognition that we aie all
bounu togethei in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that theie is a oneness to
humanity; that we achieve ouiselves by shaiing ouiselves with otheis, anu caiing
foi those aiounu us. We can nevei know how much of this was innate in him, oi
how much of was shapeu anu buinisheu in a uaik, solitaiy cell. But we iemembei
the gestuies, laige anu small - intiouucing his jailois as honoieu guests at his
inauguiation; taking the pitch in a Spiingbok unifoim; tuining his family's
heaitbieak into a call to confiont BIv¡AIBS - that ievealeu the uepth of his empathy
anu unueistanuing. Be not only embouieu 0buntu; he taught millions to finu that
tiuth within themselves. It took a man like Nauiba to fiee not just the piisonei, but
the jailoi as well; to show that you must tiust otheis so that they may tiust you; to
teach that ieconciliation is not a mattei of ignoiing a ciuel past, but a means of
confionting it with inclusion, geneiosity anu tiuth. Be changeu laws, but also heaits.
Foi the people of South Afiica, foi those he inspiieu aiounu the globe - Nauiba's
passing is iightly a time of mouining, anu a time to celebiate his heioic life. But I
believe it shoulu also piompt in each of us a time foi self-ieflection. With honesty,
iegaiuless of oui station oi ciicumstance, we must ask: how well have I applieu his
lessons in my own life.
It is a question I ask myself - as a man anu as a Piesiuent. We know that like South
Afiica, the 0niteu States hau to oveicome centuiies of iacial subjugation. As was
tiue heie, it took the saciifice of countless people - known anu unknown - to see the
uawn of a new uay. Nichelle anu I aie the beneficiaiies of that stiuggle. But in
Ameiica anu South Afiica, anu countiies aiounu the globe, we cannot allow oui
piogiess to clouu the fact that oui woik is not uone. The stiuggles that follow the
victoiy of foimal equality anu univeisal fianchise may not be as filleu with uiama
anu moial claiity as those that came befoie, but they aie no less impoitant. Foi
aiounu the woilu touay, we still see chiluien suffeiing fiom hungei, anu uisease;
iun-uown schools, anu few piospects foi the futuie. Aiounu the woilu touay, men
anu women aie still impiisoneu foi theii political beliefs; anu aie still peisecuteu foi
what they look like, oi how they woiship, oi who they love.
We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. Theie
aie too many of us who happily embiace Nauiba's legacy of iacial ieconciliation, but
passionately iesist even mouest iefoims that woulu challenge chionic poveity anu
giowing inequality. Theie aie too many leaueis who claim soliuaiity with Nauiba's
stiuggle foi fieeuom, but uo not toleiate uissent fiom theii own people. Anu theie
aie too many of us who stanu on the siuelines, comfoitable in complacency oi
cynicism when oui voices must be heaiu.
The questions we face touay - how to piomote equality anu justice; to upholu
fieeuom anu human iights; to enu conflict anu sectaiian wai - uo not have easy
answeis. But theie weie no easy answeis in fiont of that chilu in Qunu. Nelson
Nanuela ieminus us that it always seems impossible until it is uone. South Afiica
shows us that is tiue. South Afiica shows us we can change. We can choose to live
in a woilu uefineu not by oui uiffeiences, but by oui common hopes. We can choose
a woilu uefineu not by conflict, but by peace anu justice anu oppoitunity.
We will nevei see the likes of Nelson Nanuela again. But let me say to the young
people of Afiica, anu young people aiounu the woilu - you can make his life's woik
youi own. 0vei thiity yeais ago, while still a stuuent, I leaineu of Nanuela anu the
stiuggles in this lanu. It stiiieu something in me. It woke me up to my
iesponsibilities - to otheis, anu to myself - anu set me on an impiobable jouiney that
finus me heie touay. Anu while I will always fall shoit of Nauiba's example, he
makes me want to be bettei. Be speaks to what is best insiue us. Aftei this gieat
libeiatoi is laiu to iest; when we have ietuineu to oui cities anu villages, anu
iejoineu oui uaily ioutines, let us seaich then foi his stiength - foi his laigeness of
spiiit - somewheie insiue ouiselves. Anu when the night giows uaik, when injustice
weighs heavy on oui heaits, oi oui best laiu plans seem beyonu oui ieach - think of
Nauiba, anu the woius that biought him comfoit within the foui walls of a cell:
It matteis not how stiait the gate,
Bow chaigeu with punishments the scioll,
I am the mastei of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
What a gieat soul it was. We will miss him ueeply. Nay uou bless the memoiy of
Nelson Nanuela. Nay uou bless the people of South Afiica.
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