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Ambassador, Georgetown Community Pay Tribute to Nelson Mandela

December 12, 2013 – The ambassador of South Africa to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool, took part in a tribute to Nelson Mandela at Georgetown yesterday.

Mandela, the former South African president who died Dec. 5, played a major role in ending apartheid in his country.

“South Africans for the last few days have been torn between our desire to hang onto Nelson Mandela as the anchor of our values, as the source of our identity and as the source of our efforts,” Rasool said, “and fearing that if we let him go, we may lose all of those things which define us and yet we needed to give him the peace.”

A Place of Truth

The interfaith tribute to Mandela took place in Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel.

Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said during the tribute that Mandela lived “this harmony of magnanimity and humility.”

“[After] 27 years in prison, no one could have expected that after such humiliation he would emerge to lead his nation out from the scourge of a political regime that debased all of South Africa’s people,” he said.

DeGioia said Mandela rose “to a place of forgiveness, a place of truth and reconciliation.”

Peacemaker, Revolutionary

During the tribute Georgetown student Vivian Ojo (SFS’14) translated an excerpt from Mandela’s 1964 speech from the dock at the Rivonia Trial, which eventually led to his imprisonment with other members of the African National Congress.

In the speech, Mandela professed that he was prepared to die for a democratic, nonracial South Africa. The activist went on to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1993 and South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

Charles Villa-Vicencio, a visiting professor of government and senior fellow in conflict resolution at Georgetown, said Mandela should be remembered as more than just a man of peace and humility.

“Mr. Mandela was a revolutionary [before his imprisonment],” recalled Villa-Vicencio, who served as the national research director in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “He resorted to violence and to armed struggle only after all the political options were closed down. … He was a revolutionary, and we should not lose sight of that.”

Villa-Vicencio was also a professor of religion and society at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Warmth and Wisdom

Gwen Mikell, professor of anthropology at Georgetown, recited her poetic tribute to Mandela called, “Madiba the Baobab.”

She said she met Mandela during his 1993 visit to the United States to receive the first J. William Fulbright Prize. One of her former students, Tladi Dishego (C'91), served as Mandela’s special assistant and had invited her to meet the South African leader.

“As I studied Mandela’s face, something became obvious,” she said. “It was the warmth. It was the humanity. It was the wisdom … I told [my former student] ‘that’s a man you should emulate.’ ”

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