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B. Mbete: Address to 2nd Africa Summit

Address to Africa Summit 2018, Cape Town, South Africa, Nov. 21–25, 2018


Do you mind if I lead you in a song?  I just want to explain what it means. Nelson Mandela, there is no one like him. 

Thank you very much. I wish first to recognize the organizers of the conference, the Mandela royal family, UPF and its leadership, and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, Mother Moon. I wish to recognize all our traditional leaders in Africa. I would like to recognize all the parliamentarians here, in particular the Pan-African parliamentarians, led by our brother the Honorable Roger Nkodo Dang. I wish to recognize all the guests, all the honorable guests that are coming from all over Africa and beyond.

We wish to welcome you not only to this Africa Summit but also to what we call the “Mother City,” because this was the first city that came into being in this southern tip of this beautiful continent and was forged out of a lot of pain. But, today, when we refer to it as the Mother City, we do so with pride, pride not only because of its beauty but because of what it has seen over the centuries, over the decades, over its history, from which a lot of beauty [has been created] for all of us to enjoy today.

I wish to make all of us know that we have everything to be proud of as South Africans, as Africans, and as humanity. And it was fitting that earlier on in September the United Nations actually honored all of us as humanity, as people who lived through a generation and at a time of such a beautiful example as we have seen in, and we continue to be inspired by and the lessons and the experiences of our leader, our African son, our founder, the Honorable President Nelson Mandela.

When I was asked to say something about Nelson Mandela, I thought there is nothing we have not heard from an international, global perspective. Perhaps I should take this opportunity to share from a personal perspective how we, who were honored to have him walk among us, holding us by the hand and leading us through very difficult times, experienced him—a little bit of what we experienced. He brought us to Cape Town to the Parliament, where he was nominated by one of his generation, Mama Albertina Sisulu—whose centenary we are also honoring this year—as the president of the new South Africa. 

We hope that those of you who have not walked around Parliament will find the time to come and walk and be shown around so that you feel that you have walked where he walked.

We came across Madiba in Johannesburg when he was head of the office of the African National Congress, his political home. He was fascinating because he was decades older than us and we were a generation of young women leaders who were coming across this generation of leaders who were always a source of inspiration to us through the stories we heard about them from their agemates, who were our mothers who were bringing us up politically. 

We always take the opportunity with international guests to say thank you to you. Thank you to all Africans, thank you to members of the anti-apartheid movement that was all over the globe, without whom we would have ever reached this moment in which we have a democratic, free South Africa that we enjoy today.

Some of us first came across Madiba when he visited Zambia, which was one of the African countries that gave us a home. Under the leadership of leaders like Kenneth Kaunda, these countries made us feel we had homes away from home. Again, we take the opportunity to say thank you. We will never get tired of saying thank you.

We were leaders in our various structures and had certain perspectives. We had certain approaches to things. We had to persuade the older generation to listen and respond to us and help us to do our job, maybe in a way they had not appreciated before.

And Madiba would say many times that he would reflect on those days when it was new to be listening, to see the old ladies lead and introduce us, the delegations of the African National Congress Women's League, of which I was secretary general at the time. He would say he was fascinated to see these young ones so strongly speaking their minds. 

But, what I observed and appreciated and admired about him was that he was of an older generation that was open-minded, that was willing to be told and given new ideas and willing to try and process a new understanding of the world that was being presented to them and actually embrace it.

I will never forget that, because many times older generations are rather condescending to younger generations, and that is something that we must learn to unlearn. We must know that younger generations see the world through different eyes and learn to see the issues and the situations they were dealing with at a particular time.

Madiba must be congratulated for being open-minded, ready to listen—but also being ready to advise us and give us guidance. I will never forget Madiba for that.

Secondly, one day when we were here in Parliament, Madiba called me and said to me there was a proposal that I should be part of a team that was going to represent South Africa in countries abroad as ambassadors. My heart sank because I had spent 15 years in exile and I was not ready to leave South Africa.

I looked at Madiba and asked him, will you send me back to exile?  He looked at me surprised that I was not accepting this deployment. But I thought I must be honest with him. After all, he was my father. He asked, what are you saying?  I said, we are busy with the constitution-making process here, and I am part of that team. Now you are saying I must go into exile again, where I have been for 15 years?  He reflected and then said, OK, when are you finishing this constitution-making process?  I said, I don't know. 

He went away, called me a few weeks later and said: OK, I hear that you don't want to go back into exile. The next thing he said was I want you to be deputy speaker, to deputize.  From that moment on he placed me in a space I am grateful to have been deployed, the legislative sector.

He was a leader who would listen, process, consider and come back with a response that showed that he cared. He was not a person who was a dictator, saying go this way and that's it; I'm not prepared to listen to anything else. I think we need many more Madibas in that respect.

Madiba was a human being. He had a sense of humor. He cared about children, and I know that because he got to know I had children who were growing up, who were teenagers. I was a mother who was always away. The children had grown up in exile and had come back to a strange place, this South Africa, where, among other things, there was racism, which they had experienced at the bus stop, at school and in society. We continue, by the way, to experience this in South Africa. It will take us a long time to completely remove racism from our daily lives.

And he made it a point to understand what was happening in our lives, the lives of his younger comrades and younger generation leaders, who the older generation had to produce and had to share experiences with from an understanding of what also had happened in their own lives. 

He called me one day to the house and said to me, don't worry that the children will blame you and feel that you are not a caring parent who is always around, cooking for them and doing all the things that a parent is expected to do. One day they will appreciate. They will understand and they will appreciate.

I appreciated those words so much because they helped me to understand that there have been those before us who had these experiences while being leaders. They had families that needed them, but they could not really look after them or spend as much time with them as they would have wished. 

Therefore, Nelson Mandela was the kind of leader that was also a parent, because he remembered that he was an older leader. He had seen a lot more as a family man that he felt critical of, and he had to share the perspective with a younger leader, especially a leader who was a younger woman, but who has children, a family. This also speaks to all of us here who have seen these kinds of challenges in our own lives.

Some of our children have the mark of being children of leaders, people who are more concerned about national issues and the lives of people in society, and less able to deal with more practical issues in the family and home. Madiba made it a point that being the big leader that he was that he would at least also be a parent to those who were around him.

With those words I hope I have shared a perspective about an international icon, a man we will continue to sing and talk about for decades to come, and we will learn the best way—wherever we are and whatever we do—to be the best Mandela we can be.

I thank you very much for your attention.



To go to the 2018 Africa Summit Schedule page, click here.