Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, today joined leaders of Toronto’s faith communities in honouring the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who will be laid to rest on Sunday, Dec. 15.
“We pray that nothing good in his life will be lost but be of continuing benefit to the world and that everything that was important to him will be remembered by those who follow him,” said Hiltz, in a tribute delivered at the multi-faith community tribute to Mandela, held at the University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Centre.
Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish leaders — along with members of the South African-Canadian community, Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow and representatives of various groups — also paid tribute and offered prayers to Mandela. A portrait of a beaming Mandela was displayed near the speaker’s podium, with a lit candle.
From a Christian perspective, “Mandela’s labours are a powerful reflection of the teaching of Jesus,” said Hiltz. “‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall be satisfied.’ ”
Mandela’s spirit was “deeply rooted in the tradition of the prophets,” said Hiltz. Like Micah, Mandela loved kindness, and he “not only loved justice, but as the prophets called us, he did justice; he walked humbly with God.” Like Isaiah, Mandela gave his people hope and he helped them to live in peace, added Hiltz.
Hiltz urged those present to remember what Mandela said about religious institutions: “We need religious institutions. We need them to continue to be the conscience of society, a moral custodian and a fearless champion of the interests of the vulnerable, the downtrodden people of the world.” To heed this call “will be to truly honour this great man,” said Hiltz.
The primate-and other faith leaders present-extolled Mandela’s extraordinary capacity to forgive the South African regime for the injustices it committed against him and his people during 46 years of apartheid. “It’s hard to imagine someone imprisoned for 27 years and walking out at the age of 71 and greeting the cheering crowd with these words: ‘I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all,’ ” said Hiltz.
“The amazing thing about Mandela was that while he was justly angered over the injustices borne by his people under apartheid, he channelled that anger for good,” said the primate. “He turned a sentence of lifelong imprisonment into a commitment of lifelong resolve in liberating people and in building a truly free and democratic nation.”
Rev. Dr. Bhante Saranapala, the University of Toronto’s Buddhist chaplain, chanted a prayer for Mandela and recalled Mandela’s famous words about forgiveness: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” These words are in line with what Buddha said centuries ago, said Saranapala.
The lesson of forgiveness was not lost on Ezrom Mokgakala, a South African expatriate who came to Canada as a refugee in 1983. Like Mandela, Mokgakala had spent time at the infamous Robben Island Prison, where he suffered untold indignities.
In his eulogy, Mokgakala said a priest in his church had asked him to say some words about Mandela and it dawned on him that his heart [Mokgakala’s] was still full of hatred toward his jailors. “It is so easy to say, ‘Forget the hatred, it doesn’t do anything for you.’ But if you have felt the pain, if you have been chained, if you have physical wounds, if you’ve been insulted and made to feel like a pig-that stays…it’s difficult to forget,” he said. “But when Madiba died, I told myself I have to forgive…I have to remember to honour his name because this is what he wants us to do.”
Mokgakala’s emotional account was met with sustained applause by the audience- some of whom dabbed away tears.
South African consul general Tselane Mokuena urged people not to forget the gains that were made by Mandela’s government in the post-apartheid period. She noted that basic needs like access to water rose from 13.5 per cent to 85 per cent.
Dr. Budhendranaouth Doobay, representative of the Hindu community and president of Vishnu Mandir, said Mandela was not just an icon but also a “non-religious saint.”
Imam Hamid Smili, chair of the Canadian Council of Imams, agreed with Doobay, adding that Mandela lived for others. Smili said he had asked South Africans to tell him what they remember the most about Mandela and they all noted his humility. “As the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, ‘Those who are humble are highest in the eyes of God,’ ” said Smili.
Rabbi Avraham Plotkin, spiritual leader of Chabad Lubavitch of Markham, spoke about how the lives of Jewish people who used to live in South Africa were changed because of Mandela’s sacrifice. Mandela spoke of reconciliation and he had “Bible-like greatness,” said Plotkin.
Plotkin recalled the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Jewish sage and mystic who once said, “There are three crowns: the crown of priesthood, the crown of wisdom and the crown of kingship, but the greatest of them all is the crown of a good name.” Mandela was the master of a good name, he said. “May his soul rest in peace, but most important of all, may the people of this world take to heart his message and internalize it…”
Olivia Chow, an anti-apartheid activist in the 1970s, declared that, “Nelson Mandela is alive in our hearts. He’s alive in our hearts because he has touched us profoundly, gently and eternally.” Mandela touched “that part of us that is good, that part that is divine, that helps us transcend pettiness, indifference, greed and despair,” she added. She added that his greatness transcends political boundaries, ideologies and religion.
“Go well, Madiba [Mandela’s Xhosa clan name which became the term of endearment used by South Africans for him],” said Jag Pillay, founder of the Canadian Council of South Africans.
South African-Canadian Indira Naidoo-Harris, who acted as the event’s master of ceremonies, said Mandela was “the embodiment of the best in us…He showed us how to have and live a just life.” Mandela will continue to live “in our hearts and minds,” she said, adding, “Thank you for all you’ve done for us.”
The tribute ended with the community singing together “Asimbonanga,” an ode to Mandela composed in 1987 by South African musician Johnny Clegg, who formed the first integrated rock band in apartheid South Africa in the 1970s.