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Lessons from my father – Zenani Mandela


ZENANI Mandela has delivered a powerful message of hope, to mark what would have been her father’s 102nd birthday and to celebrate International Nelson Mandela Day.

Millions around the world have been involved in a variety of humanitarian activities to celebrate International Nelson Mandela.

Zenani, who is South Africa’s Ambassador to Argentina, used her special message to also talk about the lessons that she has learned from her father, the 1st president of a democratic South Africa who passed on in 2013. She delivered the message a day after she buried her younger sister, Zindzi, who died of COVID-19.


This is what Zenani said: 

“As we celebrate my father’s life and look to his legacy in a world which is facing racism, fascism, and this new nightmare of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would like to share with you some of the lessons that I have taken from him. The existence of injustice and cruelty in the world was the first lesson I learned from my father at the age of two-and-a-half when he was taken away from us. Like so many other children throughout the world, who are denied the privilege of being with their father, I did not have the luxury of sitting at his knee to learn important life lessons. I had to acquire this knowledge from a distance. My father taught me about how to survive when the odds are stacked against me and when it seems impossible to imagine a positive outcome.

“I don’t need to tell you what my father and his comrades had to endure in prison and the million ways in which those had power over them tried to break their spirits. How they tried to get them to let go of their vision of freedom, democracy, and human rights for all. I also don’t need to tell you that he emerged from prison with his head held high, walking hand in hand with my mother, 27 and a half years and six days after he was arrested. Less than a week after I had turned 31 years old. I would like to tell you how my father’s example remains a living lesson for me, personally, and how it still sustains me through a range of challenges.

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“Through his words and his deeds, my father told me to always hold on to hope. He never gave up the hope that one day he would return home to us and fulfill what he saw as his duty to his people. While we were not allowed to visit him, until we turned 16 years old, my father always made a point of telling us, through letters and messages from my mothers, that he was happy, well, and could not wait to be with us again. He gave us no hint of how big and relentless his day to day experiences were or that at times it felt to him as if hope might disappear completely.

“My father always taught us that hope is not enough. We need to be determined and when we persevere, we can survive just about any situation. We cannot, however, pretend that we are all on an equal footing when it comes to fighting disease. The virus is so much tougher for millions who live in abject poverty. My father taught me that just as we see racism and fascism as an affront to our freedom, disease is, without a doubt, also a human rights issue. We see this particularly now in the COVID-19 pandemic which has highlighted vast and deep inequalities in regards to accessing health care, water food and acceptable living conditions. 

“As my father told the United Nations in 1998, ‘ The very right to be human is denied every day to hundreds of millions of people as a result of poverty.  The unavailability of basic necessities such as food, jobs, water, shelter, education, health care, and a healthy environment. When HIV/Aids was South Africa’s great health challenge, my father urged us to remain compassionate to our fellow human beings, particularly those who were ill or who had lost loved ones. When he himself was ill, when he was suffering from tuberculosis in prison or cancer after his release, he stressed the importance of closely following the advice of the medical experts. He also taught us the power of not hiding the truth of one’s diagnosis and he maintained that openness about one’s disease was crucial in the fight against stigma. 

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“My father taught me that no matter the challenges that I face, there are always others worse off. It is therefore crucial that not only should we continue to fight for human rights wherever it is lacking but that we should also care for each other when we suffer. My father always emphasised that as we seek to make the world a better place for all of us, we should remember the spirit of ubuntu, which says we are human only through the humanity of other human beings. My father taught me that while we live in a world of despair, disease and hunger, together we can triumph over adversity and that we will overcome.”

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By The African Mirror