Former South African president Thabo Mbeki: ‘We must celebrate Mandela’s life, but focus on what’s next’

Mbeki addresses members of South African Jewish community at Johannesburg shul.

December 9, 2013 02:21
2 minute read.
Thabo Mbeki, second black president of post-apartheid South Africa

Thabo Mbeki, second black pres of SA 370. (photo credit: South African Jewish Board of Deputies)


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Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as the second black president of post-apartheid South Africa, spoke on Sunday evening at a memorial for Mandela at the Oxford Synagogue in Johannesburg.

“As we celebrate the life of Mandela, we focus on what needs to be done, we need to see what he stood for,” Mbeki said. “We as a country might be able together to say we have a common roadmap as to what we do.”

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“Former president Mbeki did not specifically speak about either his or Mandela’s relationship to Jews,” Charisse Zeifert, spokeswoman for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, told The Jerusalem Post after the speech. “He spoke in general about the creation of a non-racial South Africa.”

Neither Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu nor President Shimon Peres are expected to attend memorial services on Tuesday or Mandela’s funeral in the Eastern Cape on Sunday, sources in their offices said.

Although Netanyahu had said earlier that Israel would be represented “at the highest level,” his office said Sunday that he would not be flying to South Africa “for financial and logistical reasons.”

Peres’s office did not give a reason for his decision not to attend.

As of Sunday, it was unclear which officials would be representing Israel at the memorial service, which is expected to draw some 150 world leaders. The funeral in his hometown of Qunu is expected to be a smaller event.

Speaking at the synagogue, Mbeki challenged his audience to celebrate Mandela’s life but also to measure up to the quality of his leadership, Zeifert said.

Members of the Jewish community who were close to the late anti-apartheid activist and statesman attended the memorial service, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies announced in a statement.

Mandela had a special relationship with the Oxford Synagogue. In 1995, he attended a ceremony there to honor assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabbi Norman Bernhard, the longserving rabbi of the Oxford Synagogue who retired in 2000, co-founded a movement in 1985 called “Jews for Social Justice,” calling for social action against apartheid.

“Synagogue services will be held around the country to commemorate and mourn the passing of our beloved father of our nation,” Zeifert said on Sunday. Memorial services were also held in synagogues in Durban, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, East London and Bloemfontein, with an additional memorial scheduled for Monday in Cape Town.

South Africa’s Jews remembered Mandela, the country’s first democratically elected president, as a close friend, one with deep ties to prominent community figures and a partner in the decades-long effort to end apartheid.

The Jewish community is in mourning after the passing of Mandela on Thursday night, whom the SAJBD called the “father of our nation,” the group said in a statement. “Many heroic men and women played their part in bringing about the triumph of justice and democracy in South Africa, but the name of Nelson Mandela towers above them all.”

A memorial service on Tuesday at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg is expected to host more than 140 current and former world leaders. The funeral ceremony in Mandela’s hometown on Sunday is expected to be much smaller.

Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon, Amy Spiro and Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.

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