Address by President Nelson Mandela at a memorial service for Father Trevor Huddleston

5 May 1998

His Grace, the Most Revd. Desmond Mpilo Tutu;
His Grace, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa the Most Revd. Ndungane;
The Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral;
The Very Revd. Lenkoe;
Distinguished Guests,

All who encountered Father Huddleston in the closing years of our struggle will know of his longing to see a free South Africa before he died; and his impatience with mere speeches that would exasperate him to exclaim: "Words, words, words - I am sick of words!"

It is therefore with special humility that I join in his commemoration to convey the sense of loss we feel, as a nation, at Father Huddleston's death, and our abiding gratitude that the vagaries of history brought him to our land. I do so in the knowledge that I am speaking of one who touched the hearts of millions of South Africans.

Although he disparaged empty words, this man of action, who also lived a deeply contemplative life, inspired the world to action through his eloquent denunciation of our condition and the realities of forced removal and Bantu Education.

This was no contradiction, but part of the strength and variety of his character.

In the same way he combined a gentle compassion for the victims of injustice with uncompromising hostility to the oppressor. His unyielding challenge to church and state was combined with absolute discipline towards his order, even when that discipline took him, as it then seemed, far from the scene of the struggle with which he had identified.

His courage was not only of the kind which is needed to choose difficult and unpopular paths. He was also fearless where others might shrink from personal and physical danger, as I myself had occasion to witness.

He was one of those rare people, good men and women who make the world the theatre of their operations in pursuit of freedom and justice.

He did so not in any abstract and distant way.

His sacrifices for our freedom and his unceasing efforts to build the international campaign of solidarity with our cause were not those of a distant benefactor. They told of a fellow human sharing dangers and deprivations as well as aspirations. They told of our capacity, on the basis of our common humanity, to touch one another's hearts across the social divides and across the oceans.

In Father Huddleston we see exemplified in the most concrete way the contribution that religion has made to our liberation. Whenever the noble ideals and values of religion have been joined with practical action to realise them, it has strengthened us and at the same time nurtured those ideals within the political movement.

In turn, Father Huddleston often spoke of how the struggle of ordinary people for their dignity gave concrete meaning to the principles of his Christianity.

It is therefore a cause for joy that his wish that dignity should be restored to South Africans in his life-time was granted him.

We are grateful that he lived to return to our land in 1991 to open the ANC Conference as it addressed the challenges of transition.

We are glad that he did see the dawn of freedom break on 27 April 1994.

He saw too how the British Anti-Apartheid Movement transform itself from a legion of freedom-fighters into a corps of fellow-workers for reconstruction and development.

He witnessed how the international community embraced a democratic South Africa as a partner in the pursuit of international peace and development.

For us who gather in thanksgiving for his memory, the challenge has moved from the quest for liberation to the quest for transformation and the reconciliation of those whom our oppressive past set one against the other.

But in this new and even more difficult struggle, the principles for which Father Huddleston fought and campaigned are as young and as relevant as they ever were. Though we have made a start in addressing the basic needs of our people, it is no easy task and one that will take many years.

As religious organisations became an indispensable part of our struggle for freedom, so too do we need them now to be actively engaged in the rebuilding of our society, strengthened by the new unity within and between religions which liberation has made possible.

As the commitment to the ideals freedom and justice took their meaning for him through action to realise them, so will our commitment to undo the legacy of our divided past gain content through our joint efforts to address the needs of especially the poorest of our society.

We will need his readiness to join hands with people of all backgrounds and all persuasions, in pursuit of shared goals.

We will need Isitwalandwe Trevor Huddleston's impatience with fine words that do not translate into action.

May we honour his memory in the building of a better life for all.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation