Address by Nelson Mandela at funeral of Steve Tshwete, Bhisho

4 May 2002 Today we come once more to bid farewell and pay our final respects to one of those pillars of strength in our liberation movement.

The untimely and sudden death of Steve Tshwete is a tremendous blow to our organisation, to the government and to our country and its people. This is a man we shall find very difficult to replace in the public life of our country. He was indeed one of those about whom it could be said that he was larger than life in his approach, in the substance of his deeds and in the generosity of his heart.

We spent time together with Steve Tshwete on Robben Island. He was one of those most fearless and outspoken in his opposition to the prison officials when they were in the wrong, and at the same time he was one of the most disciplined members of our prison community. That combination of discipline with fearless forthrightness was the hallmark of Steve Tshwete and his life.

Steve was a sterling example of how prisoners made of their incarceration a positive experience and a building stone for the future. His organisational skills, also in the field of sports, were then already evident. His courage and commitment will be fondly remembered by all of us who shared those years with him.

Steve Tshwete was a brave freedom fighter and an unstinting warrior for peace and reconciliation in the country he loved so much. His total commitment to non-racialism was legendary and known to all. Sporting unity in our country owes more to Steve Tshwete than to any other individual and we know that many millions of sport loving South Africans mourn his death today.

Steve Tshwete combined in himself so many of the experiences of the liberation struggle. He was a Robben Island prisoner; a leader of the internal mass movement and underground; and part of the movement in exile and of the armed struggle. This complete grasp of all of the aspects and experiences of our movement equipped him excellently to play the role he did in the liberation and subsequent transformation of our country. He had the ability to bring and hold together people of differing opinions and backgrounds. Hence the almost universal expressions of loss and sadness at his death.

He was a highly respected and much beloved member of our Cabinet in the Government of National Unity. The members from all three political parties represented in the Cabinet shared that respect and affection for Steve Tshwete.

As Minister of Sport he embodied above all the spirit of reconciliation and nation-building. He knew how important sport was to the people of our country. Sport has the ability to influence people where politicians find it difficult to reach. He understood in those first years of our democracy how to lead transformation while remaining sensitive to the fears, anxieties and concerns of those who might have felt threatened by change. His passion for national unity, and for the expression of that unity in and through sport, was deep and sincere.

In our organisation he played a similar unifying role. When internal differences at times threatened to overstep the bounds of healthy dissent, Steve was invariably amongst those we could trust with the task of attending to those situations in the best interest of the organisation. His forthright and honest manner coupled with the warmth and sincerity of his personality made of him the ideal person for such tasks. People might have differed with him but his integrity was respected by all.

It was for this same reason that he was so effective in his dealings with members of other political parties. He respected their democratic right to differ while being able to persuasively put across the position of his own organisation.

That the entire country mourns his death is a sign of how much we have progressed to becoming united as a people and a nation. And this unity in our sorrow is the highest tribute we could have paid Steve Tshwete and his life.

I was deeply shocked at first learning of Steve's sudden and serious illness. We thrice tried to visit him in hospital but he was heavily sedated. On hearing of his death we phoned the family to express a shock and sadness that will be hard to overcome.

We think particularly of Pam and the children and the rest of the family. We share with you in these times of loss and bereavement. May you find some strength and consolation from the knowledge that the nation mourns with you.

We shall remember him.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation