First Person

How will you remember Nelson Mandela?

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In light of Nelson Mandela’s passing today, Oxfam staffers shared a few of their thoughts, below. We encourage you to join us and share your own remembrances in the comments.

Nelson Mandela speaking at a Make Poverty History event in 2005. Photo: Mark Davey/Oxfam
Nelson Mandela speaking at a Trafalgar Square event in 2005. Photo: Mark Davey/Oxfam

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International

“My direct contact with President Nelson Mandela was in the context of helping Burundian women to participate in the Arusha peace process. Madiba met Burundi women peace activists and signaled to the negotiators the importance of an inclusive process for a just, peaceful and prosperous future.

We honor President Mandela not only for his vision, courage and sacrifices for the liberation of South Africa but for promoting forgiveness and reconciliation following the end of apartheid. Madiba spoke for all oppressed people in the world. He was the most consistent and powerful voice for social justice in the 20th century.

My deepest condolences go to H.E Graca Machel, President Mandela’s entire family and all the people of South Africa.”

Lord Joel Joffe CBE, ex-Chair of Oxfam and the lawyer who defended Mandela at the Rivonia Trial

“Nelson Mandela was an extraordinary human being and I was honored to have had the privilege of representing him as one of his lawyers in the Rivonia Trial.  When I first met him at Pretoria jail, he came into the interview room to meet the team of lawyers dressed in prisoner’s clothes of sandals and short trousers, but typically took command of the meeting.  He was a natural leader with great charisma who listened carefully to his colleagues before taking decisions.

During my time at Oxfam, we also supported the anti-apartheid movement by withdrawing our business from Barclays which was heavily associated with South Africa.  Oxfam has a long history in South Africa, working with people to overcome poverty and injustice. I was delighted that Oxfam was one of just two charities invited by the ANC to attend Mandela’s inauguration in recognition of its contribution to the cause of justice and equality.

In addition to his great achievements, I will always personally remember Nelson Mandela for his wonderful sense of humor.  He had an easy smile and infectious laugh.  He was a very warm person who treated everyone the same, as simply another human being.”

Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America

“Throughout his rich and celebrated life, President Mandela was given many names—some out of affection and respect, others out of fear and contempt for what he represented. My favorite is his given name, Rolihlahla. It is a Xhosa name, a language spoken widely in South Africa which shares characteristics with many other Bantu languages. The name Rolihlahla means, ‘pulling the branch of a tree,’ but colloquially it means ‘troublemaker.’

For those who sought to suppress human rights and freedom, Mandela was indeed a troublemaker.

His life serves as inspiration for our work and our mission. Mr. Mandela is, in essence, a true Oxfam ambassador. He championed learning and education throughout the arc of his life. He challenged the powerful as well as structures of power. He raised the voice of the vulnerable and powerless. And he framed the cause of poverty as a question of justice, beginning a global conversation about its root causes.

In fact, I was drawn to a speech President Mandela made in 2005 in London’s Trafalgar Square for the campaign to end poverty in the developing world. He said: ‘Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. … Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.’”

What is your favorite quote from Nelson Mandela? How has his work affected your life, even from afar? Share your response in the comments below. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+