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WASHINGTON, January 16, 2014—I was extremely happy to hear that the World Bank Group would organize a memorial for our great leader Nelson Mandela. On the day I was deeply touched by all the contributions, the sincerity of Jim Yong Kim, the humor of Leonard McCarthy, the strength of Mansur Muhtar, and the emotion in all the other contributions.
When the floor was opened for us to recall our memories, I took the opportunity to give my thanks to Madiba. Here’s what I said:
“Thank you very much for this opportunity. Mandela’s life is certainly one to celebrate.
My name is Max Thabiso Edkins and the best way I know how to celebrate Madiba is for me to tell my story.
I am a South African German who was born in Lesotho. Lesotho, that beautiful mountain kingdom completely surrounded by South Africa? Why
Lesotho? I have often been asked.
I would blame Apartheid – Apartheid forced my parents to stay away from South Africa.
My father is a South African filmmaker. He gave up on his studies because he could not tolerate the lies being taught under Apartheid. He fled mandatory army service and when they came looking for him he had to flee the country.
He met my mother in Germany and together they lived in different parts of North and South America. At the time, with a South African passport, it was difficult staying anywhere much longer than three months and when it came to having me, my parents had made their way to Lesotho.
In the 80s, Lesotho was an exciting place. The anti-Apartheid revolutionary movement was strong. South African raids were a regular occurrence. The parties were good. And there was a real sense of taking action.
From the beginning I suppose I have been anti-Apartheid. I remember when I was 7, then in Germany, I took part in a demonstration wearing a black T-shirt with a big red STOP sign on it. It read “STOP APARTHEID”. I also remember somebody asking me whether I knew what it meant – of course I didn’t, but I soon found out.
After Mandela’s release in 1990 we could finally make our way back to South Africa, something we had been trying to do for years. Though only by 1994, when we had the first democratic election, did I come to realize the full meaning of Mandela’s release.
I have always enjoyed working with photography and film and to me the transition in South Africa felt a bit like moving from black-and-white television to Technicolor.
The rainbow nation had arrived, the euphoria was amazing, and there was a real sense of freedom.
While I cannot say that I was fortunate enough to have met directly with Mandela, I was lucky enough to have had him smile at me.
He came to the funeral of King Moshoeshoe II in Lesotho in 1996. My brother and I joined the parade by horse and when Mandela arrived he walked right in front of us and gave us a big smile.
The Mandela smile – I will never forget it. I try to carry it with me and try to copy it whenever I can. My Sotho name, Thabiso, after all does mean Happiness.
But it is not only his smile that we remember Mandela for, it is his leadership, his dedication, his strength, his belief and his ability to forgive and to work with all to unite South Africa. He is certainly a ‘giant of our history’.
And in 2010 we realized that we had to celebrate Mandela’s 20 years of freedom, so we organized a film festival in his honor. At the opening we celebrated as only South Africans could, as South Africans now living in a country where no race was superior to another.
Now that Madiba has left us, we bid him Farewell, and the message I take with me is that ‘one person really can change the world.’
This is the message I would love to take forward to the next challenge of our generation – that challenge in my opinion is Climate Change.
But I really wonder whether there will ever be another Mandela, so for the climate challenge I would rather say that we can all change the world, each one of us. And let’s take Madiba’s legacy and let it guide us.
Madiba, I love and thank you for all you have done, may you rest in peace. And to remember you I say Amandla! Awethu!”

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