Mandela's honesty about Shell House enhanced my admiration for him - Mangosuthu Buthelezi

IFP says few within the ANC shared the late president's commitment to reconcile with past opponents (Dec 9)



Today a nation mourns. The passing of Nelson Rohlihlahla Mandela closes a chapter in history that will be remembered as a time of struggle, of freedom and of great transformation. Yet this chapter wasonly the preface, pointing towards the story that is yet to come.

As we continue to write the story of South Africa, let us be inspired by Mandela's legacy.Let us remember his passion for reconciliation, his capacity for forgiveness and his bold leadership. Let us also remember his honesty.

Mandela's old-style honesty was a value that my generation admired. I respected him for an admission he made in April 2002. He said, "We have used every ammunition to destroy [Buthelezi] and we failed. He is still there. He is a formidable survivor. We cannot ignore him."

That admission made many in his organisation unhappy. But that was the kind of brutal frankness that positioned Mandela as a leader among his peers.

Even as a Head of State, his honesty drove him to make admissions that few others at the helm of their country would dare. On 1 June 1995, President Mandela spoke in the National Assembly about the Shell House Massacre of 28 March 1994, in which eight civilians died when security at the ANC's Headquarters opened fire.

In total, 60 lives were lost and 300 were injured. A year later, in the National Assembly, Mandela said, "'I gave instructions to our security that if they attacked the house, please you must protect that house - even if you have to kill people."

This admission that he himself had given the order distressed Mandela's comrades. But six days later he stood again in the National Assembly and reminded us all, "For reconciliation to have real meaning, the truth should be brought to light."

As painful as it was for me to hear, President Mandela's honesty about Shell House enhanced my admiration for him. He was a man of truth.

I know that many still carry the wound of Shell House, and the multitude of wounds inflicted by the ANC's People's War. I too carry scars in my heart. But there is a saying that has defined my life, and one that Mandela used to repeat as well: "The definition of a saint is a sinner who dies trying".

There is no one more deserving of forgiveness than Nelson Mandela, and few who epitomise forgiveness more.Now that the Lord has called him home, I urge those who carry wounds, to forgive him. It is true, after all, that Errarehumanumest.

Following the rupture between Inkatha and the ANC in 1979, I endured vilification and pain. But even at the height of the campaign to destroy me, Mandela himself showed integrity.

In 1986 the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group visited South Africa to assess the situation under apartheid, and met with Mandela on Robben Island. General OlusegunObasanjo, the former Head of State of Nigeria, later recounted to me that they asked Mandela who I was, because they were hearing so much about me. Mandela answered, "Buthelezi is a freedom fighter in his own right."

This was an expression of honesty as much as an expression of our friendship, which endured for as long I knew him. He expressed his confidence in me time and again as we served in a democratic Government, appointing me as Acting President in his absence. He was not obliged to do that.

My only regret, as we prepare to inter the remains of our beloved Madiba, is that his long-pursued vision of reconciliation is not complete. He charged those who came after him to take up the cause of reconciliation. Yet he enters eternity with this dream still unachieved.

The dishonoured agreement of 19 April 1994, signed by Mandela, de Klerk and myself, still haunts our efforts. There is an echo in the dishonoured agreement of 30 November 2000 which promised to uphold the powers and functions of traditional leaders. This had nothing to do with Mandela. But it forces us to consider whether we as a nation maintain the integrity of our first democratic leader.

In the twilight of his life, the need for reconciliation still weighed heavily on Mandela's heart, as it does on mine. Unfortunately, he was prevented time and time again from acting on his convictions. He was a remarkable leader, but not a sovereign, and few within the leadership of the ANC shared his commitment to reconcile with past opponents.

Yet we cannot honour Madiba's legacy without taking up his passion and adopting his mission. The liberation he fought for must encompass freedom from the wounds of the past, committed not only by minority against majority, but by brother against brother.

In memory of Nelson Mandela, I pray that that is where our story will lead.

As a starting point, in honour of our fallen hero, may consideration be given to releasing the political prisoners who still await their freedom twenty years on.

My condolences to the Mandela family, and to the many who grieve. May Nelson Mandela rest in peace.

Issued by the IFP, December 9 2013


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