Nelson Mandela International Day

Address by Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Paduka Dr Limkokwing at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, July 18th 2013
18 July 2013

Let me begin by thanking His Excellency Thami Dennis Mseleku for the opportunity.

It is an honour and privilege to be here to celebrate the life of a man who represents the very best of Africa and the very best of what human being can become in this day and age.

Nelson Mandela. In just five years more he would reach that elusive milestone of 100 years, but 27 years of incarceration would have taken a huge toll on his health. Today all our thoughts are with him as he fights to return to good health.

Nelson Mandela. Here is a man admired by the entire world. It was his willingness to walk the road of sacrifice that distinguishes him as one of the greatest symbols of resilience, tolerance, non-violence and moral integrity of our age.

Nelson Mandela, in so many ways, is a role model to other leaders because of the manner in which he had resisted and the manner in which he has overcome.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I count myself as among those privileged to have worked with him during his most glorious and defining moments when he walked among his people to bring them a message of freedom and hope for a better future.

As you know, in May 1994, Mandela led the ANC to a historic victory which ended 300 years of minority rule in South Africa.

I consider myself very privileged to have been involved in a small way in that incredible change process.

It was in 1993 that I met Nelson Mandela through Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, who is, as you know, a very close friend of Mandela.

Following that, I was quickly briefed on the need to mobilize capacity strong enough to drive an election campaign throughout South Africa.

As I remember, days later, I was in Johannesburg working with leaders of the ANC, to put in place what must be done, within very limited time, and with very limited resources.

As no one there had any experience in orchestrating an election campaign, it fell largely on my shoulders to create and produce what was needed to drive it. Not just to drive it but to win the election.

Very quickly, both of us, agreed on an election platform that seemed obvious instantly to the two of us.

We wanted a campaign that would unite, not further divide, so no violence.

We wanted the people of South Africa to focus on the future, not the past, so no vengence.

It was clear to me that we were going to build our message entirely on Mandela's own philosophy of no hatred, no vengeance, no violence, no revenge.

We went on to design a campaign that carried only one simple promise using only one simple image.

This resulted in a message that was pegged to a single image of Madiba surrounded by children of the races that make up South Africa.

I am glad to see that the line we wrote for the campaign: "A better future for all" or "A better life for all" is still in use today – 20 years after it was created.

I can recall that it was not easy to get everyone of the ANC leadership to accept a message that some had considered to be overly soft, and overly reconciliatory.

If not for Mandela's total commitment to a peaceful transition, the campaign could have gone another direction, and the consequences could have been very different.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Madiba must be the easiest party leader I have ever worked with.

He was looking relaxed most of the time. He smiled easily. He laughed easily. He made the most difficult situations look easy.

And he listened attentively. Because of that he could size up matters very quickly.

I swear that it did not cross my mind at all at the time that this simple, mild-mannered person, with whom I usually met after midnight, would move on to become the world's most revered icon for peace and humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For six months I was there working alongside some of the most extraordinary freedom fighters the world has even seen, some of the most charismatic leaders I have ever met.

Apart from Mandela, there were Sisulu and Kathrada, Popo Molefe, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma, Gill Marcus, Thabo Mbeki, Joe Slovo and several others. Immensely talented leaders. Powerful orators and campaigners.

The atmosphere was always electrifying whenever Mandela and other ANC leaders turned up to speak at rallies. Thousands would turn up to patiently listen, and loudly cheer.

There would be more singing and dancing whenever Jacob Zuma was there.

In the days leading to the election, the environment was often tense.

Now and then, thousands would suddenly appear on the streets.

Now and then, gun shots were heard. and people were hurt.

Now and then, the Shell House, where the ANC headquarters were housed, would be surrounded and barricaded.

I was instructed repeatedtly to return home by KL. But I stayed on to get the job done. I knew as long as Mandela was in the country, it would remain one country.

But Madiba's immense popularity was sometimes a problem for us having to run the campaign.

Posters bearing Madiba's face would be taken down as soon as they were put up – by people who just must have Madiba's pictures taken back to display in their own homes.

Twenty years ago, this man was already deeply loved and revered by his people in his country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

After the election, I was back in KL when Madiba called to tell me we had lost in Kwazulu Natal and Western Cape, he accepted defeat in these two places.

A leader every step of the way, even in defeat. He knew we would be very disappointed because he knew we had fought very hard in these two provinces.

When I shook his hand after his inauguration as President, he said quietly "You must return to see us frequently".

Ladies and gentlemen,

To conclude. As Madiba celebrates his 95th birthday, lets take a moment to add our prayers and best wishes for his health, so that he can return to his home surrounded by his loved ones.

Before I return to my seat, here is a short video written to capture the legacy of a man who has become the world's best loved hero of our time.