Message by Nelson Mandela at memorial service for Joe Slovo, Soweto

1 March 2004

To stand at the grave of a patriot and a comrade of the stature of Joe Slovo is an honour as much as it is a moment of sadness in remembrance.

Amongst the heroes and heroines of our long struggle for freedom and justice, the name of Joe Slovo will always remain in the front ranks. Few could have been more revered and more universally acclaimed and admired than him.

He in many ways came to personify the inclusive, non-racial and broad nature of our national struggle.

It was my privilege to have known and to have been befriended with Joe from an early age on. From the beginning of our association he distinguished himself as a person of unshakeable principle, courage and commitment. In the circumstances and times in which we first met it would almost have been expected that there would be some racial element in that relationship; Slovo was, however, non-racial and ant-racist without exception or second thought.

His non-racialism throughout his life was not based on an illusionary wishing away of the racial realities of our country and society. He understood his contribution to non-racialism to mean that he would totally dedicate himself to the cause of the mainly black masses of people in the country. That is what made him the unreserved hero of the people. He became one of the people; he was with and for the people.

Joe Slovo was one of the best-known and most loved Communist leaders in the history of our country. And in his conduct as a senior member of the Communist Party he was once more most exemplary. He fully understood the nature of the relationship amongst the members of the Alliance, particularly that between the SACP and the ANC. For that I shall always respect him: he was a builder and a unifier, not a destroyer or divider.

He was also a person of great open-mindedness, always grappling with ideas, open to debate, seeking for new and fresh solutions to our problems. There are many examples of innovative initiatives in our history that can be traced back to Joe Slovo.

The memory of Joe Slovo should continue to serve as an example and inspiration. Now that our organisation and alliance are in government it is more necessary than ever that we conduct ourselves and our politics after the inspiring model of persons like Joe.

Long may his memory live on.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation