MONROVIA, LIBERIA - With President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other world leaders assembled in Johannesburg for the State Memorial Service for the late South African President, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, hundreds of her compatriots at home and foreign dignitaries gathered at the Centennial Pavilion for a Memorial and Reflective Service to mark Madiba’s passing and celebrate his life. Mr. Mandela passed away on Thursday, December 5th, in his 95th year.
At the service, according to an Executive Mansion release, Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, Sr. said that Liberia shares with South Africa the loss of the former anti-apartheid leader, and would forever remember his courage to unite people with diverse backgrounds and ideologies. Liberia, he said, has every reason to raise its voice to celebrate the home-going of an iconic leader for a life well lived.
Vice President Boakai called Mandela “a towering son of Africa,” a “gigantic phenomenon,” whose life was encapsulated in humility and who demonstrated that true greatness is not what we say, but what we do. He challenged the audience to be thankful to God for giving Africa a role model for a meaningful life. Liberia, he said, would always strive to remain within the realm of the virtue of Madiba.” Liberian hearts were filled with joy, he added, because the fallen hero had once sought refuge in Liberia, which supported the anti-apartheid struggle.
The Government’s condolence message, from President Sirleaf to her South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, was read out by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine K. Ngafuan. The President Sirleaf called the passing of Mr. Mandela not only a loss for South Africa, but all of Africa and, indeed, the world. She expressed deepest condolences to the bereaved family and the people of South Africa for the irreparable loss of one of Africa’s greatest and finest sons, describing him as “a towering and inspiring world leader whose moral authority was unsurpassed.”
President Sirleaf stated that as an anti-apartheid leader, Mandela’s struggle brought freedom to millions of South Africans, and that his spirit of forgiveness and willingness to embrace his tormentors made him a symbol of reconciliation and a beloved figure the world over. As the first black President of South Africa, she said “his courage and unwavering dedication to the ideal of justice, freedom and equality contributed to reordering that country into a truly rainbow nation.”
The Liberian President recalled during her visit to South Africa on the occasion of Mr. Mandela’s 90th birth anniversary, she had been awe-struck by his spirit of generosity and commitment to the cause of humanity, and added, “His pursuit of peace, democracy and equality for the people of South Africa and mankind everywhere earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.” The President prayed that God will grant solace to Mr. Mandela’s grief-stricken family and the Government and people of South Africa in this hour of national grief.
She ordered that the flag of Liberia be flown at half-mast for three days across the length and breadth of the Republic to express the nation’s enormous grief, and as a mark of respect for this fallen hero.
Other speakers at the Service included Historian Dr. Elwood Dunn who, in speaking about Africa’s icon extraordinaire, called upon the younger generation to introspect and retrospect about a life of exemplary service.
The Acting Chairman of the Cabinet, Finance Minister Amara Konneh, called Mandela the closest thing to “a secular saint,” and the most pragmatic idealist and reconciler, and went on to share Madiba’s eight rules of courage, leadership, timing, befriending one’s enemies, keeping friends close and rivals even closer, the importance of appearance, and quitting as a form of leadership.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, J. Alex Tyler, said Liberia was proud to have provided safe haven for the former freedom fighter when he came to Liberia in the 1960s, and that the world needed more “trouble makers” like Mandela, whose memory and legacy would endure.
Among other speakers reflecting upon the life of Mr. Mandela were: the representative of the Liberia National Student Union, Mr. Benedict Williams, who recalled the role of students in the African liberation struggle, and spoke of apartheid of “attitude” existing in Liberia today.
Atty. Medina Wesseh recalled her days as a student leader in Ghana, working for the South African anti-apartheid cause. She described Mandela as a black man who showed so much love for humanity; exhibited leadership, brotherhood and courage; and suffered so that the world could understand the suffering of the people of South Africa.
Liberia’s Peace Ambassador, George M. Weah, also reflected upon the life of Nelson Mandela, quoting him, and recalled his 1996 meeting with Madiba during the Africa Cup of Nations championships in South Africa. He remembered Mandela as a soft, gentle, loving and caring father figure. He said he was encouraged by Mandela when he accepted his appointment as Peace Ambassador.
A long-time diplomat, Ambassador Lafayette Diggs, who knew Mandela, traced the history of Liberia’s and Ethiopia’s efforts on the international stage on behalf of the South African people, including support of the armed struggle when diplomacy failed. He also spoke of Liberia’s recent troubled past, and how the current President, Mrs. Sirleaf, was doing her best for her country.
Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh, Founding Leader of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA) said he first met Mandela in 1992, at the CODESA talks, and described him as the person who had led his country from apartheid to democratic rule. He told an anecdote about Mandela having a straight back, even after breaking rocks for 27 years in prison, and said that he had been “looking at the back that broke the back of apartheid.” Mandela, he said, had changed society for the better. Dr. Tipoteh also sang about ‘Peace for all in South Africa and Liberia.”
Also making remarks were the Acting Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps, H.E. Beng'Yela Augustine Gang of Cameroon; and the African Union Ambassador to Liberia, H.E. H. Oluwatoyin Solaja.
In his remarks, South Africa’s Ambassador to Liberia, H.E. Masilo Esau Mabeta, expressed gratitude to the Government for making Mandela’s death a celebration of peace and freedom in Liberia. He said that the late President Mandela was the essence of “Ubuntu” – a southern African term meaning human-ness or human kindness. Mandela brought us together, he said, and called for all to find a way to make a difference in the lives of people with whom they interact for conflict resolution, reconciliation, the rights of children and gender equality. The First Secretary at the Embassy had earlier read out Mr. Mandela’s obituary.
The Rev. Dr. Bartholomew Calley, Pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church, delivered the Sermon on Mandela’s legacy; the Pastor of the Pentecostal Union of Liberia gave the Invocation; and Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, Chairman of the National Muslim Council of Liberia, gave the Benediction. The program also included selections by The Vow to Praise and the AFL Band Unit.
Earlier on Tuesday, a Book of Condolence was opened at the South African Embassy in Congo Town. Among those at the signing ceremony were: Vice President Boakai and officials of government; Speaker Tyler and members of the Legislature; Foreign Minister Ngafuan and other Cabinet members; the Acting Doyen, Ambassador Gang, and members of the Diplomatic Corps,among others.