EVEN in his absence, Nelson Mandela stole the show at the opening of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) Honorary Doctorate Exhibition in Port Elizabeth last night.
The exhibition – open to the public today – is displaying the former statesman’s personal diaries from 1976 to 1989.
Madiba, as he is affectionately known, was mentioned and applauded by both guest speakers.
The exhibition, themed "Honour One, Inspire Many”, focuses on 35 honorary doctorate recipients who were either born in the Eastern Cape or played a significant role in the province.
They included Steve Biko, Govan Mbeki, Athol Fugard and Sister Ethel Normoyle.
In the diaries, on loan to the university until December, Mandela wrote about a wide range of subjects that included his dreams, state of health and views on the then political climate in South Africa.
The manager of the Archive and Exhibition Centre, Christelle Nel, said yesterday: "The whole building tells a story, but we are extremely lucky to have Nelson Mandela’s diaries.”
About 100 guests braved the cold to attend the opening at the university’s Second Avenue, Summerstrand, campus.
The exhibition also showcases biographies, photographs, artefacts, paintings, sculptures and other memorabilia belonging to the honorary doctorates.
"It highlights and recognises the work they have done towards creating a better society, in particular their assistance to communities through the inspirational work they have done,” Nel said.
Rhodes University chancellor Prof Jakes Gerwel, who worked with Mandela for 18 years, said: "The lesson I learnt from him is that everyone can and should be a leader by being the best they can wherever they find themselves.”
Gerwel received an honorary doctorate from NMMU in 2008.
Philipp Gutsche, non-executive chairman of Coca-Cola Sabco, said: "[Mandela] had a work ethic that was superior ... but the ethos of the man has left the country. Leaders of today have lost their focus and moral discipline.”
He also took a swipe at corrupt leaders and called on residents to do their part in improving the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.
"Good leadership shapes the future and people must ask what they can do for the metro,” Gutsche, who received an honorary doctorate from NMMU in 2005, said.
The exhibition will be open from 8am to 4pm daily until January.