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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1923


Mr TRUSS (Wide BayDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) (14:00): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death on 5 December 2013, of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela AC, former President of the Republic of South Africa, and place on record its acknowledgement of his role in the development of the modern South African nation and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Our parliament pauses today to mark the loss of a great man: a freedom fighter who became a national healer, a prisoner who became a president. Very few leaders in human history have embodied their cause in the way that Nelson Mandela represented a free and equal South Africa. For the 27 years he spent in prison he was the symbol of all that was wrong with apartheid. Today, we use words like racism quite often, but no-one can comprehend the horror and injustice of what apartheid was in a bygone South Africa.

He was imprisoned for taking action against the injustice and prejudice that infiltrated every aspect of his people's lives. Lesser men, when deprived of the energy of their supporters and the exhilaration of the struggle, would have given up the fight in the long and lonely days of their incarceration. Lesser men would have allowed their passion for justice to spill over into a desire for vengeance. In the words of the poem Invictus, of which Mandela was so fond, he remained true, 'bloody, but unbowed', and the 'menace of the years' found him unafraid. He was confident that the tide of history would turn, and turn it did.

As global awareness of the evil of apartheid spread and the international community started to take action against South Africa, Mandela became a beacon of hope, a symbol of what the new South Africa could be: a country were every man, woman and child would be equal under the law; a place where everyone could aspire to high office and be entitled to basic dignity; a nation where freedom was indivisible and a universal right.

Because of Mandela's greatness, South Africa was reborn in a spirit of reconciliation, not retribution. As president he worked to bind up the nation's wounds, to bring truth and healing through the power of his example. He saw the dismantling of apartheid as an act of mutual liberation, a change that conferred new freedom and dignity to the oppressed and the oppressor alike. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Frederik Willem de Klerk, in acknowledgement that his was a struggle to achieve peace.

Now that he is gone, and the tributes are pouring in from across the globe, it is worth remembering that Mandela always espoused modesty and humility. He never wanted to be an icon or a saint. He was, in his own words, just a sinner who kept on trying. Paradoxically, his humility only added to his greatness.

Few of us in public life ever try to encourage criticism, even if our actions might sometimes invite it. But whenever Mandela tried to acknowledge his flaws or mistakes—and like all people he had some—he only brought his qualities and achievements into sharper relief. This as much as anything reveals the measure of the man.

In the days ahead the world will mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, but let us also give thanks for his life. I have noticed in the film and pictures coming from South Africa how much the people are celebrating as well as grieving. We will never see another Nelson Mandela, but in the South Africa he built and the world he leaves behind his example lives on as an inspiration to us all. Now that his long walk to freedom is at its end, may he rest in peace.