Desmond Tutu asks South Africans to be a "fitting memorial" to Nelson Mandela

Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu leads a service in St. George's Cathedral, Dec. 6, 2013, after the announcement of the death of Nelson Mandela, in Cape Town. Getty

Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu, a long-time friend of Nelson Mandela, called upon South Africans Friday not to build a lasting memorial to the late leader, but to be that memorial themselves.

Offering a prayer of thanks for Mandela's life at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, Tutu said that Mandela himself would have wanted "South Africans to be his memorial."

"We, you, I, all of us have, in many ways, amazed the world. A world that was expecting us to be devastated by the racial conflagration looked down in amazement -- in transcending the injustice of racial oppression to this new South Africa, we gave hope to the world," said Tutu.

Mandela, who battled apartheid in South Africa and spent 27 years as a political prisoner before becoming his nation’s first democratic leader, died Thursday at his home after several months of ongoing health problems. He was 95.

"The one gift that you and I can give to the world, as a fitting memorial, remembrance of Tata, is for us to become what the world had thought impossible," beseeched Tutu. "Let us give him the gift of a South Africa united."

Almost 24 years after Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison -- steps that became a powerful symbol of the beginning of South Africa's conversion into a free and democratic state -- the nation still grapples with societal division and inequality, with black South Africans even in his home village still facing abject poverty. As Tutu suggested in his prayer, there is work still to be done, and continuing Mandela's mission, in his name, is the only fitting tribute to his life.

"God, thank you for the gift of Madiba," concluded the retired archbishop. “Thank you for what he has enabled us to know we can become. Help us to become that kind of nation."

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