Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela was a constant source of inspiration to the entire body of prisoners at the Robben Island and transformed me from being an angry young man to one who learnt to forgive but not forget the atrocities of apartheid, fellow inmate Isu Chiba has said in his homage.
Chiba spent 18 years on the island with Mandela and other political prisoners.
"Madiba was a constant source of comfort, encouragement and inspiration not only to me, but to the entire body of prisoners on the Island. He lifted our morale whenever our spirits were low, as often happens under prison conditions," Chiba said yesterday.
People of all races and religion yesterday flocked into churches, mosques and temples to offer spiritual homage to the anti-apartheid icon, regarded as a symbol of freedom and forgiveness.
"I was in my early thirties when I ended up on Robben Island as a very angry young man - angry at what the security forces of the apartheid regime had done to so many of our comrades: harassment and blackmail; torture; murder and assassination and so on.
"I had some bizarre ideas at the time of what to do with them, if I ever came out of prison alive. But what Madiba stressed, together with Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada, was the need to forgive without forgetting what they had done to our people," Chiba said.
He (Mandela) stressed that if ever freedom and democracy were realised - and insisted that these would be realised no matter how long and difficult the struggle - our historic mission was to rebuild and reshape the country and that mission would only be possible on the firm foundations of forgiveness and reconciliation, and not on the basis of anger, bitterness and revenge, Chiba said.
"This has been the cornerstone of his philosophy - the need to unify a divided nation leading to lasting peace in a diverse, multi-cultural, non-racial and non-sexist society on the basis of reconciliation," he said.
Commenting on Mandela`s intense love for children, Chiba said it came as no surprise that he established the Nelson Mandela Children`s Fund soon after being installed as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa. "The measure of his deep commitment to the welfare of children and his enduring love for them can be seen from his generous act of donating one-third of his salary as President to that Fund.
"Among the many ways in which we can pay a lasting tribute to Madiba is to ensure that his dream of a state-of-the-art children`s hospital becomes a reality," Chiba said.
He also recalled with pride his role in smuggling out, with help from fellow prisoners Ahmed Kathrada and Mac Maharaj, the script of Mandela`s autobiography, clandestinely written on tiny scraps of paper.
"This was a dangerous task under prison conditions. For me it was an absolute honour to be part of a group taking the risks in getting the manuscript prepared over many, many months, and finally to have it smuggled out with Mac upon his release.
The manuscript reached London and later formed the basis for Madiba`s best-seller, `Long Walk to Freedom`.