NELSON MANDELA has become the first South African to be honoured with a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey.
In a dedication service in the Abbey on Wednesday of last week — the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth (18 July) — a black marble stone in the nave of the Abbey was dedicated to him in the presence of his granddaughter, the South African High Commissioner, and many other dignitaries.
The driving force behind honouring Mandela in this way had been the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, who also conducted the service. He said that a few months after Mandela’s death, a memorial service had been held in the Abbey, at which the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, preached. The idea of the memorial stone in the Abbey was then born.
“I wanted it to be the sort of place where we can remember Nelson Mandela and his extraordinary life and work, but it should also be a place where we can pray for forgiveness and reconciliation between peoples,” Dean Hall said. “He set a wonderful example as he came out of prison not wanting to ferment violence but wanting people to live in peace together.”
The memorial stone is made of Black Belgian marble, and the words “reconciliation” and “forgiveness” sit around Mandela’s name and the years of his birth and death. It has been placed in a prominent position at the top of the nave.
The memorial to Mandela is the first to a South African among the 650 memorials in the Abbey, which include those to William Shakespeare and Diana, Princess of Wales. Dean Hall said that Mandela had visited the Abbey.
The reading in the service was from a letter that Mandela wrote in prison to his then wife, Winnie Mandela, on 1 February 1975, and was read by one of their granddaughters, Zamaswazi Dlamini-Mandela: “You may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings.”
The letter explored the external and internal factors in one’s life, and concluded: “But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others — qualities which are within easy reach of every soul — are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.”
The service was attended by the South African High Commissioner, Nomatemba Tambo, who is the daughter of Nelson Mandela’s law partner and later ANC leader-in-exile Oliver Tambo; British dignitaries; and many former South African exiles, friends, and stalwarts of Nelson Mandela, and one of his goddaughters. Some of the attendees wore traditional dress of the Xhosa, the Eastern Cape tribe that Mandela came from.
The Ubunye Choir, which is made of people from the South African diaspora, sang traditional songs during the service.