In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing on December 5, 2013, tributes came forth from around the world and more than 100 heads of state attended his memorial service in South Africa. One such tribute, a eulogy to Madiba (his clan name), was paid at the Seattle Rotary Club meeting on December 11, 2013, by Paul Suzman, now a prominent Seattle businessman and the nephew of Helen Suzman, a long-time member of the South African Parliament and one of the most important non-black opponents of the Apartheid system. Paul Suzman’s tribute appears below.
Ladies and gentlemen, Rotarians and guests:
You may wonder what a football is doing on the podium. It is actually a rugby ball.
Given the unusual role that rugby played in Nelson Mandela’s political life I thought it would be an adornment of which he would approve. I am also, today, wearing the official necktie of the 1995 Rugby World cup which was held in South Africa the year after he was elected president. He would like that.
Last year, I was fortunate to attend an exhibit at the British Museum in London entitled "Shakespeare; Staging the World." And in place of honor, the very last exhibit was the "Robben Island Bible."
It is the complete works of William Shakespeare smuggled onto that island by another political prisoner, Sonny Venkatrarathnam, disguised as a Hindu holy text.
You see literature was originally not permitted on that bleak windswept rock in case it should give the inmates the wrong ideas.
It did exactly the opposite. It gave them the right ideas.
Nelson Mandela recognized a global truth. It is education; it is literature that sets people free.
Even if his body was to be trapped, for the rest of his life, as far as he knew, in the limestone quarries of that forsaken place, surrounded by the unforgiving depths of a greasy grey Atlantic, the Robben Island Bible could transport him and his comrades to Elsinore and Venice, to Harfleur before St. Crispin’s day, or to the steps of the Senate in ancient Rome.
It was words, thoughts and soaring oratory