“In South Africa, they’re dancing. This is how you celebrate a great man.”
So said Peter Gabriel from the podium of the Roseland Ballroom in New York City Thursday night (December 5) where he was hosting the WITNESS 2013 Focus For Change Event. WITNESS is the human rights organization that Gabriel co-founded in 1992, which aims to empower activists to document human rights abuses via video. Of course, the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away hours earlier was on the minds of all attendees.
The event itself served as an ad hoc tribute to Mandela’s influence. Every speaker mentioned him, and Mandela himself appeared in a video tribute to the night’s honoree, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, a businessman who, among other things, helped to connect Africans to each other by making cellphones more easily available on the continent.
Peter Gabriel knew Mandela personally, and worked with him in a group Mandela co-founded called The Elders, which also includes former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and President Jimmy Carter. Before the event, Gabriel discussed his fallen icon with Radio.com, from both a personal and global perspective.
“I think everyone was getting ready for Mandela’s death a while back; I recently lost my own dad. You never quite know how long these things are going to take. [His death] was a good release for his family. But it leaves an enormous hole. In many ways, he was a father figure to all those who have campaigned for the rights of others, or for justice. I hope we see some other people emerge with his qualities, but I have my doubts.”
Given that he was friends with Gabriel, Mandela must have been impressed with WITNESS. He told Radio.com, “You know, I think he was appreciative of anyone, anywhere, who was willing to give people tools to fight for themselves. One thing he said with The Elders was, ‘Make sure you can see it in the village.’ That yardstick sticks with us in The Elders, in WITNESS, and anywhere, it’s gotta make a difference to people on the ground.”
Gabriel also spoke to Radio.com of Mandela’s charisma: “Wherever he went, he would always talk to the working class people and make them feel as important, if not more important, than the big shots.”
— Brian Ives, Radio.com